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Courage: lead by channeling child-like zest for challenge, Mark Kelvin

Courage: lead by channeling child-like zest for challenge

Posted on April 12, 2017

In the last blog, Born leaders – you need to regress to progress, I explored the quality of curiosity and how we could benefit from learning to value this quality as we face increased leadership challenges in our sector. Now, I'd like to think about another child-like quality: courage.

When I was nine years old, my brother and salvaged four large pram wheels from the local tip. I was so excited – after what felt like months of searching we had finally found the only missing elements to our home-made go kart. 

We fixed the axles to the old wooden door, secured an old blue rope as a steering device to the front axle and headed for the hill. The hill was notorious, it’s where anybody who was anybody went when it snowed. They took it on with bin lids, dinner trays, rubber rings, and the occasional sledge. But this was the height of the summer holidays, so we were going to set a new standard of bravery by tackling the hill on a homemade go kart. When we got back at school, we'd be heroes! I sat at the top of the hill, gripping the steering rope so tight it was sore. Wearing nothing more than my shell suit to protect me, I gave the nod to my brother to push me over the precipice. My heart was racing so fast, like it knew something that I didn’t…

I’m told that I made it to the bottom; I don’t remember it as well my brother. The last I recall he was shouting at me to use the soles of my plimsolls as brakes. Ah yes, brakes! Perhaps the pram wheels weren’t the only thing missing…

This might not be the most inspiring story to demonstrate my point but thinking back, I can't help but be a bit envious of my own courage. Coming on for thirty years later I wouldn’t dream of returning to the hill with a homemade Go Kart. I have learned to be cautious, to assess risk and make informed decisions based on the information that’s available to me.

Have I become too cautious? Does this same risk assessment prevent me from being brave, from speaking my truth in situations where I may be a lone voice, and from making unpopular decisions even though I know with confidence that they’re the right decision for the organisation?

In trying to find an example of where I have demonstrated courage recently, I asked some of my colleagues for examples of where I have led with courage. This feedback revealed the big differences that I have effected as a result of being willing to take appropriate risks, to challenge the status quo, and to make tough decisions. The feedback also revealed that courage manifests in small moments, like in being more open and vulnerable with my colleagues.

As our sector faces increasing challenges, both in number and complexity, it’s vital that we lead with the courage of our childhood, and true to our authentic selves.

In the next blog I’ll explore the quality of authenticity and how being true to our real self can enable us to be more courageous.

This blog was developed as part of Mark's 2016 Clore Social Fellowship Programme and originally published on Third Force News as part of a blog series. 

Mark Kelvin is programme director at the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland and a 2016 Clore Social Fellow.

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Mark Kelvin

Mark Kelvin

Health and social justice champion

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