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Resilient Leaders in a VUCA World – Being Courageous as a Leader (3 of 11)

V - Being Visionary, U - Being Understood, C - Being Courageous, A - Being Agile

“Courage is grace under pressure” – Ernest Hemingway

We lead everyday in a context of external uncertainty and disruption. Change is constant, the future continues to be blurry, and we are leading followers who are expecting continuous optimism and glimmers of hope for sustainability in this chaotic world. It takes an enormous amount of courage to lead with resiliency in times of uncertainty; to persevere; to be persistent; and to lead with confidence and conviction in an environment that is not only unpredictable, but appears to be out of control.

The “Great Resignation” of 2021 (aka The Big Quit), where 8.6% and 7.2% of the US workforce resigned in the months of March and April 2021 (the highest to this date was 2.4%) may indeed be the indicator that the reserves of courage needed to lead had reached exhaustion!(See HBR: Who is driving the Great Resignations? – Ian Cook, September 15,2021).Leaders, especially leaders in uncertain times, definitely need courage in order to be resilient. The question then is what, if anything, characterizes a courageous leader? Harvard professor, Nancy Koehn explains that “a courageous leader is an individual who’s capable of making themselves better and stronger when the stakes are high and circumstances turn against that person.” Substitute the word courageous with resilient and we have a wonderful description of what is required of us to lead in these uncertain times! There are probably many characteristics of a courageous leader, however in the context of resiliency and VUCA times, the following may indeed be the most important:

Courageous leaders are…

Authentic. They are self-aware, transparent in who they are and what they expect. They are ethical and moral. They are inclusive in how they lead. This authenticity not only develops trust, but provides confidence to the organization which in turn (1) predicts job satisfaction, (2) shows commitment to the organization’s identity, and (3) enables a healthy flourishing workplace.

Teachers. Many might remember the “learning organization” era of the 90’s with Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline. Resilient leaders certainly have to be learners, but must also be teachers by transforming and intentionally sharing their learning throughout the organization. Learning is only part of the transaction, but it only improves self. Completing learning is teaching. Teaching shows the application and knowledge as to how the learning might be utilized within the organization. Learning, assessing and teaching provides not only the ability to persevere through challenges, but provides the opportunity to grow stronger in the process of learning and listening. It takes courage as a leader to listen to others. As Sir Winston Churchill so eloquently stated,, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” 

Vulnerable. Courageous leaders have the ability to live with the discomfort of not knowing everything. Courageous leaders move from a know-it-all mindset to a learn-it-all mindset. These leaders acknowledge that they don’t need to have all the answers, and are the first to admit that they are not the only source of knowledge. This humility identifies a vulnerable leader.

Discerning. Courageous leaders distinguish or discern between “complicated” and “complex” issues. They are able to let go of perfectionism in order to maintain momentum. They have the courage to expect mistakes (risk/reward), and lead according to the situation and context they have at hand. Discernment is the ability to analyze quickly, make good judgment calls, and come to quick conclusions.

Disciplined. Courageous leaders take a systematic approach to understanding the complexity of the changing situation, possible responses, and pathways forward which are for the good of the organization and not biased to their own personal preferences or biases.

Networked. Courageous leaders consciously make it clear that they are not leading in a vacuum. They network and consult with other leaders internally and externally. They have a group of peers who have a unique set of unique experiences and perspectives different to their own that they can draw strategies and models from.

Future minded. In uncertain times the easy path for leaders  is to focus only on the present.  Courageous leaders certainly keep this present focus but never forget the context of what future scenarios might be. Keeping the end in mind when the world seems to be collapsing requires a leader with much courage.

It is not easy to be resilient in changing times, especially in the times that we are now experiencing, where the future continues to be uncertain.  It takes courage to bounce back over and over again, to be always optimistic, and to be authentic in your confidence for the future. Continue to be authentic; listen, learn, and then teach; be vulnerable; be discerning; be disciplined; build your peer networks; and never ever sacrifice the future for the sake of the present.




By Dr. John Reynolds (Board member of Tabor)

John Reynolds

John C. Reynolds, PhD
President, Los Angeles Pacific University

John C. Reynolds, PhD, provides leadership to Los Angeles Pacific University, an affordable, flexible, and online university designed specifically for the working adult. Reynolds earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer science and information systems in South Africa, and later a PhD in Higher Education Leadership at Azusa Pacific University. He also serves as a professor, teaching in his research interests of leadership, board governance, organisational behavior/psychology, and strategic thinking.

In addition to his over 20 years of experience in higher education, Reynolds has worked as a strategy executive in the mining industry and as global Chief Information Officer (CIO) for World Vision International, a large private international relief organisation. Reynolds is the author of several books/chapters and is a regular contributor of posts and blogs on social media focusing particularly in the areas of leadership and strategy. Reynolds serves on several governance boards, including BDI Inc. (USA), LCC International University (Lithuania), API Educational Foundation (South Africa), Tabor Institute of Higher Education (Australia), African Enterprise (Canada), and LCC International Fund (USA).

Further professional information on John is available on LinkedIn