• Carolyn Stuart

Sometimes we're only brave on the inside

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

As my children have grown up, they have left home, gotten married and acquired dogs. Sometimes when they come home for a visit the dogs come with them, much to the chagrin of our 16-year-old cat. For the most part, Rosie (the cat) deposits herself upstairs, finding a safe haven in the suitcase cupboard and there she waits until the dog departs.

Rosie the Cat

That is, until last weekend, when for reasons unknown Rosie decided enough was enough and she came downstairs into the kitchen and faced off with the dog, letting it know exactly who was boss, before retiring behind a pot plant on the deck to observe her domain. We were astounded both at Rosie’s bravery in standing up to the dog and the terror on the dog’s face when confronted with the ‘do-not-mess-with-me-this-is-my-house’ message from the aged cat.

Once the dog had left, Rosie came out from behind the pot plant and started to closely follow my husband and me around. She placed herself between us on the bed and during the night when I awoke, I saw her curled up tightly in the crook of my husband's arms. Whilst this is usual behaviour for some cats it is highly unusual for Rosie and we concluded that in actual fact Rosie was really only brave on the outside and now that the danger was passed she needed the security of being close to the humans she trusted.

So often as leaders we are also only brave on the outside. We undertake our leadership roles with an outer-confidence that belies the nervousness or self-doubt that we battle on the inside. On the outside we appear calm and collected yet underneath we are paddling like the proverbial duck! Many times as we appear to be confidently making decisions, we are also secretly crossing our fingers, eyes and toes that things will turn out fine.

A great way to increase your confidence on the inside is to be certain about the principles that underpin your leadership practice. Once you are clear about these and use them to inform your decision-making then you can have greater confidence that the decisions you are making will be the right ones.

Some of my leadership principles are:

1. People matter

No matter what the decision, first and foremost consider the people who will or are being impacted. Even when we don’t have a choice about a difficult decision we can still choose to use a process that leaves people with their dignity intact.

2. The long game is the only game worth playing

Ensure every significant decision is one that takes you closer to your vision.

3. Accept that people will need to ‘act their way’ into a new way of thinking, rather than ‘think their way’ into a new way of acting.

Sometimes you need to make a decision and support people to navigate their way to a successful future. If you wait for everyone to become believers in a new approach you risk never getting started.

4. Compete to be the best you can be not to be better than everyone else.

Victories that come at the expense of others are not really victories at all.

If you do find yourself in a situation of only being brave on the outside choose carefully who you share that information with. Most times the people you lead will be negatively impacted if they discover that on the inside you are quaking like a leaf. They need you to give them strength by being strong. Find a peer who you know backs you to win. Sometimes finding out that you are not alone is strength enough.

If at times you feel uncertain as a leader then it might be worth finding yourself a leadership coach. Having a confidant to whom you can unload your uncertainties and walk with on your leadership journey, can be a real bonus to both you and your organisation.

Some of my favourite work is helping leaders to be the best that they can be,

Til next time,


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