Leading Bravely: Stepping Past Fear and into a Courage-Led Life

By Margie Warrell

Bring to mind the greatest leaders you admire or have worked for. Chances are, a common trait among them is their courage. At one point or another, these individuals were brave enough to embrace their own vulnerability, were decisive amid uncertainty, challenged their own best thinking and invited others to do the same Exceptional leaders dare to set a bold vision despite no guarantee of success. Willing to engage in conversations about issues others might deem “too sensitive”, “too awkward”, or “too risky”, they work for a cause greater than themselves while emboldening those around them to do the same. Under brave leaders, new ideas are developed, young talent is nurtured, new ground is forged, deeper understanding is fostered, and more bridges are built. The results are more creative solutions to problems, faster adaptation to change, and a legacy that will outlast the leader long after they’ve gone.  

Image via Pxhere

  People sometimes assume leaders are born courageous, somehow immune to the fears that plague the rest of us. Not so. While some people are naturally more comfortable with risk, the only requirement for anyone to step up to become a leader is deciding to take action amid their doubt and pursuing a mission that transcends their fears.  Courage comes in many forms, but in every form is a refusal to let fear call the shots. This is why courage is such an indispensable virtue not just for great leadership, but also for forging a good, socially responsible life. Not all of us are called to lead countries, run companies, or start movements, but each of us has an obligation to use our unique talents in ways that positively impact the lives of others in our local communities and beyond. This is what Brenda Keane did. A few years ago, she decided to pursue a long-held dream to launch her own line of activewear for larger-sized women. Keane, who is Australian, had no prior work experience in retail or fashion—only a big vision and a desire to stop letting self-doubt prevent her from doing something that inspired her. She is today the owner and designer of BeKeane , and her exercise apparel caters to sizes ranging from 10 to 38.  

Screengrab of BeKeane website.

Thankyou , an Australia-based social enterprise that donates 100% of its profits to poverty alleviation, is another story of courage. As co-founder Justine Flynn shared with me: “We didn’t know what we were doing [in the beginning], but when we discovered how many people in the world lack clean drinkable water, we knew we had to do something.” The company has grown significantly since its establishment in 2008: today Thankyou products—including water, body care and food—are stocked across Australia, and their consumer movement has raised millions to get safe water, toilets, and child and maternal health programmes to people around the world.  

Screengrab of Thankyou website.

  Personally, had I waited until I felt certain that I had become a world-class writer or knew everything there was to know about human excellence, I’d never have penned my first book, much less embarked on a second career empowering leaders around the world. But by connecting to a sense of purpose that transcended my fear of falling short in my efforts, I have forged a meaningful career amid the challenges of raising my four children. (Admittedly, some days with more grace than others!)  

 Margie is a bestselling author, leadership speaker and CEO of Global Courage.

In today’s increasingly “VUCA” (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, it has never been more important for each of us to decide what kind of leader we want to be and the values we want our lives to stand for. It begins with daring to set a bold vision for our lives—one that compels us to exit the safety of our comfort zones and lay aside pride for the sake of a nobler cause. This doesn’t mean we will forever more feel unafraid. After all, it’s human nature to live within the boundaries of what feels safe and certain. We therefore have to be clear about what matters most to us, and then answer this question: for the sake of what and/or whom am I willing to be brave? If we cannot the answer that question, then fear will drive us to stick with what’s easy, comfortable and convenient.  

As a simple self-examination, consider the following. In what areas are your need for safety, comfort, security and status overriding your desire for a life of service, meaning, growth and contribution? Imagine what a really, really brave version of your life might look like. What changes would you make? What chances would you take? What conversations would you have? What are the things you’ll do that you’ve been putting off due to fear? At a societal level, the world is hungry for people to set aside their fears and muster the courage to find solutions that will effect positive change. Changing the world requires a collective effort and each of us has an individual responsibility to contribute to towards the power of the many. If not you, then who? If not now, then when?   

Image via Pxhere

Daring to choose growth over comfort, service over safety, and faith over fear may not always secure a promotion, but it will almost certainly earn you a whole lot of respect. Starting with your own. Courage is like a muscle—you build it by acting on it, not waiting to feel it. It’s time to “train the brave!”  


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#1 Dare Boldly. Our lives expand in proportion to the size of the vision we’re working towards. Dare to set your sights on the boldest vision for your life.

#2 Take Responsibility. If you’re looking for reasons not to do something, you’ll always find them. But you are the only one responsible for your success and happiness. Don’t get stuck in blame or trade in excuses. Your future is unwritten; you alone are the author.

#3 Challenge Your Story. Your best thinking got you here but be careful not to get stuck in stories that limit your future. Challenge the assumptions you have about what you can and cannot do. If the story you’re telling yourself about your situation isn’t moving you forward, it’s holding you back.

#4 Embrace Discomfort. We are wired for comfort and safety, not for taking risks. Yet only when we embrace discomfort as a prerequisite for success can we ever accomplish what we’re capable of and be the changemaker we’re meant to be. 

#5 Speak Bravely. The toughest conversations are often the most critical. Have faith in your own voice and if there is something you genuinely want to say, chances are someone needs to hear it.

#6 Own Your Difference. Your greatest value lies in what makes you different. Own it. If all you do is try to fit in and conform, all you have to offer is conformity. Don’t dial down your uniqueness, but embrace it fully. 

#7 Risk Mistakes. Fear of making a mistake keeps many people wasting half their lives before they take action. By taking action amid your fear, you learn more, grow more and achieve more and much more quickly. Forget about being perfect and start before you’re ready. If it’s worth doing then it is worth taking a risk on.

#8 Say No to the Good. Your time is precious, and your goals require focus and attention. You have to say no to the “good” in order to create space for the great.

#9 Do What Is Right. Without integrity, nothing works. Don’t surrender your values but work to do what is right, even when it costs you.  

#10 Keep the Faith and Press On. Life won’t always go the way you want it to, but within every adversity is an opportunity to learn, grow and become a stronger, wiser and more compassionate version of yourself. So walk the path of faith over fear, trusting that whatever happens, you’ve got this!

  Banner image of Margie Warrell, courtesy of the author.  


Margie Warrell is a bestselling author, leadership speaker and CEO of Global Courage , a leadership advisory focused on emboldening braver leaders for a better world. She aims to embolden people with the courage and resilience to make braver decisions, take bolder actions and create a bigger mark. Margie draws on her background in business, psychology and coaching to develop better and braver leaders in organisations globally, from the UN Foundation to Salesforce. Her books, Find Your Courage, Stop Playing Safe, Make Your Mark and Train the Brave—and her Live Brave podcast—reflect her belief in the potential of every person to overcome the fears and false beliefs that keep them from achieving the extraordinary. Find out more at margiewarrell.com