WRITTEN By Luke Chernosky

Courageous leadership is: consistently acting true to your gut under pressure - knowing what's right in the moment and not being swayed by the stress of the situation to ignore your beliefs.


Imagine this scene at work: your colleague asks you to do something that, although mildly, seems to be unethical, in order to complete a project. How would you resolve this situation? How does your resolution to the situation change if your boss, business partner or client is doing the asking? Now add that the deadline is fast approaching and a large amount of revenue is involved—your job and business is in jeopardy if things go poorly. This is all too often a reality faced by professionals and executives alike across the country.


Brooke and the team at Courageous Leadership put you in the driver’s seat, to experience (or re-experience) these types of situations, the times when you have strong values which run contrary to others. Gaining awareness during these events allow pursuit of alternative courses of actions, rather than falling into patterns of conflict avoidance, often borne out of fear of retaliation, i.e. my supervisor will get angry with me or my client will leave if I change the status quo.


It's my belief that where ever I work or business that I conduct, my values apply and should not be subordinated to the pressure of the situation at hand. This way acting with courageous leadership requires developed awareness of personal beliefs, as well as the situations that test them. Otherwise the natural tendency is to be a passive bystander under situations of stress.



Growing up in a small town in Maine, I was part of a peaceful, quiet and non-confrontational community. We proudly held strong values of treating others with respect. People in our community generally “did the right thing” by those values, and any sort of conflict counter to those values was rare. In the event that someone violated those values, the community could be counted on to step in immediately.


20+ years later, I entered the world of Wall Street investment banking, where conflicting values were the norm and people generally could be counted on to only look out for themselves. At the bottom of the food chain, where I started after undergrad, were the analysts who were encouraged to follow orders of superiors unquestioningly, or risk retaliation often damaging to their careers. Confronting abusive behavior meant severe consequences. And for someone not used to this conflict, the difficultly staying true to personal values given the pressures involved is immense.


How would you act if you saw someone being mistreated by a senior professional at work, and you knew you could count on others to support preventing that mistreatment? How would your actions change if you knew no one would support you and you would be viewed negatively for getting involved?


It is my belief that no one comes in to a business and says “let’s do things the wrong way”; rather, firms and individuals slowly move to justify their actions over time as ‘it’s just the way we do things here’ or ‘it's just business.’ When the community can't be counted on to resolve situations, courageous leadership becomes paramount to ensure personal values are not swept under the rug in the wake of stressful situations—to the detriment of individuals and the company. Regardless of the stakes involved, action is only possible when these situations are recognized and the ability to communicate values in stressful situations is developed.



Armed with tools from Courageous Leadership, I began to expand my capacity to apply personal values in situations where I formerly coasted through on mental auto-pilot. The first step was recognizing my own internal reactions to circumstances of discomfort, keeping in mind that asserting personal values isn’t limited to situations involving unethical behavior or moral dilemmas, but also includes matters of personal relationships and business judgment.


This new level of awareness allowed me to consciously act, instead of unconsciously being moved down the path of least resistance.


An example of this came during my MBA summer internship where I worked very closely with a mentor who was a founder of a real estate development firm in Nigeria. The founder, as a driven and talented individual, was adamant in his ways of conducting business, specifically dealing with vendors. As I began to manage various development projects, I sought collaborative approaches to contract negotiations, opposed to the founder’s more combative procedure. 


At first, my approach was unpopular. For the first development project I received, I had to secure an architectural contract by the end of the week. After the first round of negotiations which seemingly went nowhere in the founder’s eyes, he categorically rejected my approach. But because I believed strongly in the value of my approach and recognized this situation as one where I would previously shift into conflict avoidance, I acted on my beliefs with the autonomy to run the remainder of the negotiation as I saw fit. I received a set of goals and using my approach, I not only met by the deadline, but I beat it.


When a situation doesn’t involve an in-your-face ethical dilemma, it may not be obvious that beliefs have been betrayed by action (or lack thereof). The architect negotiation was a time I felt pressured to act counter to what I believed was the right course of action. And, rather than losing sight of what I valued in the face of meeting objectives and pressure from the founder, I took mindful action and increased my capacity for doing so in the future. To me, that is courageous leadership.



The team at Courageous Leadership would like to thank Luke for his testimonal. Please contact us if you'd like to share your experience!