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Education competencies: Managerial courage

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies.


Tactfully dispenses direct and actionable feedback; is open and direct with others without being intimidating; deals head-on with people problems and prickly situations.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Provides corrective feedback to others Provides current, direct, and complete reinforcing and corrective feedback to others Tactfully dispenses current, direct, complete, and "actionable" feedback Deals with corrective feedback in a manner that inspires accountability and self-redirection among colleagues and direct reports
Can be direct but tactful Lets people know where they stand Is open and direct with others but does not seek to intimidate them Has a commanding but undaunting presence
Can directly face up to people problems in most situations Faces up to people problems with any person or in any situation quickly and directly Deals head-on with people problems and prickly situations Welcomes the opportunity to arbitrate people problems
Will take negative action when necessary Is comfortable taking negative action when necessary Swiftly administers negative action if a situation merits it Forcefully and definitively takes negative action to quench trouble

Overdoing managerial courage

  • May be overly critical
  • May be too direct and heavy-handed when providing feedback or addressing issues
  • May provide too much negative feedback and too little positive feedback
  • May put too much emphasis on negative issues
  • May fight too many battles

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:
  • What is my plan to deal with a difficult situation to short-circuit a negative outcome?
  • How can I say what I have to say more tactfully?
  • Will I sacrifice my short-term pain for a long-term benefit to the organization by enforcing an unpopular policy?
  • Have I dealt directly and head-on with a prickly person in lieu of sending someone else to do it or altogether avoiding the situation?
  • Was I poised, calm, and unemotional in my last uncomfortable confrontation?
  • What situations have I given up on that I need to regroup on and try again?
To avoid overdoing managerial courage, ask yourself:
  • Am I too critical, choosing to "deal with" situations without allowing them to work themselves out?
  • Am I more prone to give negative feedback than positive feedback?
  • Am I too combative, looking for trouble to fix?

Interview questions

  • Good leaders deal with corrective feedback in a manner that inspires accountability and behavior change among colleagues and direct reports. Share a situation that demonstrates your capability in this competency.
  • Share two examples that demonstrate the fact that you have a commanding presence, yet that presence is not intimidating to others.
  • Tell me about the time when you found it most difficult to deal head-on with people problems. What was the most important factor(s) in your success (or failure)?
  • Sometimes, as leaders, it is necessary to administer negative actions. Share two situations that make obvious your ability to swiftly and effectively take negative action. Why was it important to do so?
  • Understanding and appreciating the origins and reasoning behind key policies, practices, and procedures are critical. Describe a situation that demonstrates your skill in this area.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Check it out: Be careful with hearsay or gossip; direct contact with data is best. Check other sources, and consider the possibility that you may have a faulty interpretation. Clearly state in your mind what your stand is and why.
  • Deliver the information: Limit the giving of information to the person who can do the most with it. Consider telling the other person involved and giving him or her the opportunity to fix things without further exposure or risk.
  • Be succinct: Keep to the facts, and go from specific to general points. Avoid embellishment, passion, and inflammatory language. Search for a better outcome, not one out of vengeance or anger. Stay calm.
  • Bring a solution, if you can: Give people ways to improve; paint a better outcome. Help others see consequences.
  • Empathize with others: Demonstrate understanding of how others feel, and try to help pick them up when the situation merits. Mentally rehearse for worst-case scenarios; anticipate what others might say, and be prepared with responses.
  • Pick the right timing: Tread boldly but carefully. Deliver messages in private, and cue the person as to what you are coming to discuss. Choose (or let him or her choose) a relaxed setting, if possible, with ample time.
  • Follow your convictions: Be responsible and speak up for what you believe will help the organization, even if it causes someone short-term pain. Treat any misinterpretations as learning opportunities.
  • Stick to the facts: Separate the event from the person. Deliver the message clearly and firmly enough so that you know you are understood, and give the person time to absorb it.
  • Go up the chain if necessary: If your initial message is rejected, ignored, covered up, or denied and you still believe there is an issue, go up the chain until it is dealt with by someone in power. Deal with specific issues, problems, and consequences.
  • Put balance in your message: Deliver as much positive information as negative over time. Do something later to show goodwill: Compliment others’ success, share something with them, help them achieve something. Pick your battles.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Temporarily manage a group opposed to an unpopular change or project.
  • Coach a children's sports team.
  • Relaunch an existing project or procedure that is not going well.
  • Do a problem-prevention analysis on a project or procedure, and present it to the people involved.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Learn from those in authority. Distance yourself from your feelings, and analyze what these people do and do not do well. Choose to imitate the successful behavior.
    • Get feedback from those in authority. Communicate that you are open to constructive criticism and are willing to work on issues they view as important.
    • Get feedback from your direct reports. Set a positive tone, and don't retaliate if you don’t agree.
    • Be cautious of feedback obtained in temporary and extreme contexts. It likely won’t reflect your normal behavior.
    • Give feedback to others.
    • Learn from limited staff. Look for ways to bring out the best in others who may lack skills or experience. Motivate by being a positive force, even in negative situations, and by giving feedback. Recognize when it is time to stop trying something and start over.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Take a supervisory course. Review the common practices of effective supervision.
    • Participate in insight events. Take a course designed to assess skills and provide feedback to help you develop self-knowledge.
    • Encourage others to take refresher or preparatory courses. Communicate and be supportive.

Recommended readings

  • Ackerman, Laurence D.Identity Is Destiny.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2000.
  • Bennis, Warren G., and Burt Nanus.Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge.New York: HarperBusiness, 2003.
  • Chaleff, Ira.The Courageous Follower: Standing Up to and for Our Leaders.San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2003.
  • Collins, Jim.Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
  • Coponigro, Jeffrey R.The Crisis Counselor: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing a Business Crisis.New York: McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, 2000.
  • Downs, Alan.The Fearless Executive: Finding The Courage to Trust Your Talents and Be the Leader You Are Meant to Be.New York: AMACOM, 2000.
  • George, Bill.Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2003.
  • Goleman, Daniel, Annie McKee, and Richard E. Boyatzis.Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
  • Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner.The Leadership Challenge.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2003.
  • Linsky, Martin, and Ronald A. Heifetz.Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
  • Silva, Michael, and Terry McGann.Overdrive.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995.
  • Thornton, Paul B.Be the Leader, Make the Difference.Irvine, CA: Griffin Trade Paperback, 2002.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.