Chancellor’s Post – Leadership Courage

This is the another post from Dr. Wright L. Lassiter, Jr., the Chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District.  We are honored to learn from his experience and leadership knowledge through these posts. Check back monthly for his posts!

From: Chancellor’s Weekend Memo #328

Serving others and doing the right thing is not always easy.  Leaders sometimes have to reach deep within themselves to find the strength and courage to resist temptations or to stand up for moral principles when others may ridicule them or when they may suffer financially or emotionally for their actions.

Some would say that without courage, leadership cannot exist.  However, for many leaders working in large organizations like the DCCCD, the importance of courage is easily obscured.  The approach taken by some is to get along, fit in, and do whatever serves one’s self-interest.  In a world of stability and abundance, leaders can often forget even the meaning of courage, so how can they know where to find it when they need it? The current environment, however, is not one of stability and abundance.

We now must take risks.  The courage to take risks has always been important for living a full, rewarding life.  Yet, the courage to resist jumping on the bandwagon and taking unnecessary or unethical risks is equally important.  In the community college environment of today, things are constantly changing and leaders thrive by solving problems through trial and error.  They create the future by moving forward in the face of uncertainty, by taking chances, by acting with courage. In the DCCCD, this is best exemplified by the bold actions that had to be taken to adjust to revenue shortfalls.

You see, the defining characteristic of courage is the ability to step forward through fear.  Courage does not mean the absence of doubt or fear, but the ability to act in spite of them.  As Senator John McCain puts it, “Fear is the opportunity for courage, not proof of cowardice.”

In fact, if there were no fear or doubt, courage would not be needed.  People experience all kinds of fears, including fear of death, mistakes, failure, embarrassment, change, loss of control, loneliness, pain, uncertainty, abuse, rejection, success, and public speaking.  It is natural and right to feel fear when real risk is involved, whether the risk is losing your life, losing your job, losing acceptance by peers, losing a loved one, or losing your good reputation.  Consider that Charles Darwin put off publishing The Origin of Species for two decades because he feared public scorn and ridicule from his peers.  But many fears are learned and prevent people from doing what they want.  True leaders step through these learned fears to accept responsibility, take risks, make changes, speak their minds, and fight for what they believe.


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