One of my favorite moments from the movie, Rocky III takes place on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The scene showcases Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone, standing triumphantly on the top stair overlooking a panoramic view of the City of Brotherly Love. The orchestra swells and the lyrics to “Gonna Fly Now” belt in the background as Balboa celebrates this pivotal moment of mastery and personal achievement. The moment is powerful, glamorous and the perfect anthem to an epic comeback story. If you’re like me, it is easy to get swept away by the poignant cinematography and the symbolic power shot of Rocky cresting again at the top of his game. Truth is, that winning moment in Rocky’s life would never have happened without the very visible and seemingly insurmountable defeat that preceded it.
Contemporary discourse about leadership reminds me of the dizzying and dangerous effects of glamorizing the pinnacle aftermath of courage.
Here’s the truth: There is no courage without crisis. There is no progress without pain. There is no comeback story without chaos. There are no pinnacle moments without the pit places and seasons of despair, disappointment, and dejection.
Emerging scholarship in soulful leadership and emotional intelligence continue to revamp outmoded paradigms of what it means to lead well and courageously. Thought leaders like Dr. Gaurav Bhalla and Daniel Goleman remind us that courage is less about the winning outcome and more about holistically embracing the pain, process, and progress that led to the series of courageous acts and the ultimate win.
Some of our best ideas, leadership acumen, and power moves emerge out of our broken places. Some of our greatest opportunities for social impact arise from our professional and personal seasons of woe and travail.
If courage is a hallmark tenet of exceptional leadership, leaders must have and create spaces to authentically unpack the painful seasons and spaces of leadership that demand courageous thought and action. According to Harvard Business Review, “Courage doesn’t imply absence of fear. Being courageous is acting in the midst of being scared to death and attracting colleagueship for support in the process.” Courage requires vulnerability because the mantle of leadership gets heavy.
Movements like ATHENA International reflect the widespread movement of industries and sectors to examine how to infuse soulful leadership, emotional intelligence, and mindful well-being into the discourse of courageous leadership. We must create spaces that normalize conversations about both the pit and the pinnacle places of leadership if we are to advance leadership longevity, talent retention, and the tenet of courage.