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Creating Courageous Leadership

How to create Courageous Leadership

Creating Courageous Leadership

[Time to read: 7 minutes]

The title: ‘Creating Courageous Leadership’ may suggest that this article is about how to be a strong and determined leader. Well in a way it is, but not in the traditional sense of strength and leadership.

There is a plethora of leadership books available that describe how to be a confident leader, how to inspire people and how to manage teams.

In this article I will introduce you to a way of ‘being’ as a leader: A way that can help you to see situations differently, think differently, run your business differently and engage your intelligence fully as a leader.

Having worked in the Technology market for over 30 years, I’ve experienced many situations where leaders have demonstrated courageous leadership and other situations where there was a clear lack of leadership.

Witnessing those situations made me curious to find out what mindset creates courageous leadership and what mindset causes the leadership to fall apart.


Recent Neuroscience research has shown that humans have three centres of intelligence: the Head brain (‘Cephalic brain’), the Heart brain (‘Cardiac brain’) and the Gut brain (‘Enteric brain’).

Each of these centres of intelligence is a complex and sophisticated system of sensory neurons, motor neurons, neurotransmitters, and ganglia.

The head brain, heart and gut can process information, store it, and access it again when required.

Each can: sense, learn, remember, communicate, and change.

Here’s a quick overview of each:

Cephalic Brain (Head)

  • No. of Neurons: 86 billion
  • Functions: Language, thinking, cognition, consciousness, creativity
  • What we say when using this intelligence: “I think” “I get it” “I understand”

Cardiac Brain (Heart)

  • No. of Neurons: 40,000 (that can operate independently from the head brain)
  • Functions: Emotional processing, values, Passion, Compassion, Connection with others
  • What we say when using this intelligence: “I feel” “My heart says” “I have a heavy heart”, “I am light-hearted”

Enteric Brain (Gut)

  • No. of Neurons: 100 million
  • Functions: Sense of self, self-preservation, courage
  • What we say when using this intelligence: “This takes guts”, “My gut is telling me”

So, knowing, that we have more than just our head-brain intelligence, how do we engage our head, heart, and gut to create Courageous Leadership?

Well, read on and I’ll share an easy to use strategy:

Engaging our three intelligences

Clearing your head

When our head-brain is full of questions, judgements, fear and anger it clouds our perception. This ‘mind clutter’ biases what we think about the situations that are presented to us. The head brain also tends to look for evidence that the current situation is the same as a previous situation so we may jump to a conclusion that the outcome will be the same as before. None of this helps us to see things differently.

So, the first step is to make space for new thinking by freeing our mind.

Luckily, it’s not hard to do. It starts with our physiology – specifically deep breathing.

Close your eyes and breathe deeply – in through the nose and out slowly through the mouth. Continue breathing deeply for a minute or so. You should start to feel calmer and more ‘centred’.

Opening your heart 

The heart is the source of our passion. It’s also the source of our compassion. When our heart is closed, it’s difficult to be compassionate. Bringing compassion into our mindset dramatically changes the way that we see situations that we experience. Compassion helps us to see situations through the eyes of others which gives us a different perspective. We gather more data when using our compassion because we get to experience what other people could be feeling and experiencing. This new perspective can help us to make a decision that includes compassion.

To open your heart, continue the deep breathing with your eyes closed as in the previous step but now think about someone that you love or care for deeply. Try to visualize that person in front of you, smiling. Feel their love – their connection to you. Continue for a few moments – when you open your heart fully you should feel a sensation of love or warmth.

Engaging your gut 

The gut is a huge resource for us. It provides us with our ‘gut instinct’, and it is our source of courage. It’s also a place that creates the strength for us to be vulnerable. When we integrate the wisdom of a free mind and an open, compassionate heart with our courage we create true courageous leadership. A leadership that is mindful, compassionate, and strong.

To engage courage, continue with the deep breathing from the previous step with your eyes closed. Now think of a time when you were truly courageous. Perhaps a time when you demonstrated both compassion and courage despite the challenge that you faced. Try to visualize it. Continue to breathe deeply for a few moments. You may start to feel a sense of strength or energy. Now slowly open your eyes and breath normally.

Engaging the three intelligences can take practice before it becomes a habit. However, it’s possible that after practice just deep breathing will trigger this three-step pattern for you so that you don’t even need to close your eyes. This can be incredibly beneficial if you are in a meeting as you’ll be able to engage your three intelligences easily and quickly.


So, perhaps courageous leadership is not just about being strong, daring, and forthright?

Perhaps courageous leadership is deeper than that?

I prefer to believe that it’s not about how much we ‘roar’, it’s about having the courage to be more present; to be our true self; it’s about showing up fully and using all of our resources by engaging all three intelligences – a free mind, a compassionate heart, and a courageous gut.

From my experience a lack of leadership and poor decision making tends to occur when leaders rely only on their head brain, where they are disconnected from the intelligence of their heart and gut.

Engaging all three intelligences helps us to:

  • Create space – where we free our mind from judgement and create space for something more powerful to appear within us.
  • Receive more – we receive information not just through our eyes and ears but also through our heart.
  • See things differently – we get a new perspective on the situations we experience.
  • Do things differently – we respond to situations differently because we are more mindful.
  • Tap into our intuition – where our three intelligences are in alignment to provide us with intuition.
  • Have different conversations – we communicate differently when we are both compassionate and courageous.
  • Make better decisions – we evaluate and make more informed decisions because we have more data and a greater insight about what’s in front of us.
  • Create different outcomes – this creates new possibilities and of course new outcomes.

I hope you enjoyed reading this and hope that this has given you new insights into creating courageous leadership.

If you have a few minutes to respond – I’d be interested to know your experience of courageous leadership.

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