Courageous Leadership – Does Your Behavioral Health Agency Have It?

In past blogs, we’ve addressed the need for Institutional Courage in helping to support an organization’s transformation to higher levels of innovation. As a reminder, Institutional Courage refers to an organization’s appetite for, and ability to, adopt change.  This means from the highest levels of leadership to the front-line team members, there is a culture of innovation that not only allows for creative thought but creates an environment where it is welcomed. 

Evaluating your agency to determine if the appropriate levels of Institutional Courage exists includes the assessment of 5 key areas:

  • Your institutional vocabulary
  • Your timeline
  • Your training and leadership development
  • Your technology and your leadership

Leadership is probably the most critical component. Institutional Courage must have Courageous Leadership in order to achieve a sustained positive and productive culture, even in the midst of nonstop change.  But what does Courageous Leadership look like and how will you know if you have it? What are the ways you can recognize if you have the elements of Courageous Leadership within your agency? 

What is courageous leadership? 

Courageous leaders are those who are not afraid of using humility, partnership, continued learning and innovation to grow and improve their teams.  Courageous leaders understand the importance of learning from mistakes, and they rely on creativity, engagement, and vulnerability to help their team reach goals. Here we’ll explore several core characteristics of a courageous leader. 

They openly and frequently communicate. 

Instead of only relying upon constantly closed doors or “top-down” communications with their teams, they create opportunities to engage their teams in strategic and implementation discussions as needed.  This helps to promote a shared feeling of ownership for initiatives that require buy-in and multiple levels. They ensure that their voice is not the only one that is heard.  

They value honesty and compassion. 

When tough conversations are necessary, they approach the situation with compassion and honesty. Everyone has a voice with valuable input to share. Courageous leaders work to resolve issues and accomplish goals. 

They are not afraid to make bold, unpopular, or even unfamiliar choices. 

A courageous leader is able to envision the strategic potential of decisions that are unfamiliar and even popular and are able to confidently forge ahead. This is not done recklessly, but this leader will engage the members of the team to best support a successful implementation.  If the implementation is not successful, they will not be afraid to re-assess and retry as needed.  

They are authentic. 

Courageous leaders are completely and genuinely committed to their organization’s success and the members of their team. You can identify an authentic and engaging leader by who they assemble around a table for internal as well as external discussions.  A courageous leader is not afraid to put their team at the forefront in an authentic way – especially if it will help support the overall success of the agency. They improve their skills, expose themselves to new ideas, and commit to this process every day.  

They are unafraid to say, “I don’t know.” 

Leaders are often expected to have all the answers, but a courageous one is willing to say, “I don’t know.” This approach shows that it’s safe to admit uncertainty and stay open to new ideas. It is a wonderful model for their teams, and helps to set a positive culture within the agency.  If you find that one of your leaders is never able to admit a wrong, or is not able to assess themselves for areas of improvement, institute additional leadership training immediately.  

They model what they expect from others. 

Modeling is an effective way to influence others, and courageous leaders take this to heart. They are compassionate, communicate clearly, and engage directly with their team. Their actions promote similar behaviors within the team.  

What courageous leadership may look like in your agency 

Courageous Leadership can help inspire cohesion, collaboration and resilience within your agency. Do you recognize the impact of courageous leadership when you see it? People of all leadership levels can demonstrate the traits described above, not just CEOs or clinical directors. Even leaders of a small team can have a powerful impact. When you can see their influence take shape in your agency, their willingness to face fear and risk positively affects everyone.  

A courageous leader doesn’t have to tell everyone how engaging and committed they are to their team. It’s apparent. Staff members feel secure about their environment and the effort they put into reaching their goals. And in the end, this security helps staff pour their energy into caring for clients and patients.  

Here’s how secure and courageous leadership may look in your behavioral health agency. 

  • Team members feel secure to challenge processes that don’t work anymore and suggest new ideas.  
  • Team members feel supported to do their job with clear expectations and boundaries. They don’t feel like they have to play office politics or follow unwritten rules to have their voice heard.  
  • Team members feel more comfortable with change because their leaders honor resilience and creativity.  
  • Leaders and team members can have uncomfortable conversations to resolve issues. They value conflict resolution, not protecting egos or the status quo.  
  • Frustrating problems are openly addressed so they can be solved, not brushed under the rug. Leaders and teams stay accountable to each other.  
  • Leaders have a regular presence but aren’t seen as a punitive threat. They are visible, supportive, and engage team members regularly, especially in challenging times.  
  • Team members worry less about getting in trouble for making a mistake. Instead, they know leaders encourage collaboration and requests for help. 

Moving forward with courage 

Ultimately, an agency will give its best care when it operates from a culture of support and unity. Courageous leadership can provide the compassionate guidance your team needs to get through challenging times.  

Read more population health articles on the AIHI Blog