The Quality Effective Leaders Share: Courage

This blog is the first in a series covering leadership issues and the characteristics of the most successful leaders. Join us on a journey and become a more fearless leader. 

Asking questions takes courage.

A smart leader asks the right questions to fuel the processes needed to move company vision to reality, increasing performance and profitability. A fearless leader cultivates the courage to ask difficult questions for personal growth.

Questions accelerate change.

Socrates spoke of courage as “endurance of the soul.” He believed that a conversation that stimulates ideas based on asking and answering questions is the most dynamic of human behaviors.

As John C. Maxwell said, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” We are all leaders of our own changing lives. If you aspire to be a leader of others, you must first do your own work.

Your work requires fearlessness and the courage to be honest by asking yourself the right questions.


Leaders often are oriented to look for answers—the opposite of what we should be doing. Imagine instead that we look for the right questions to ask of ourselves, and also of our managers and our teams.

Change is the foundation for growth, personal or organizational, and change begins with questions.

Questions are by their very nature disruptive.

At work, questions help you decide, create, and connect in meaningful ways. They accelerate change in a way that opens up possibilities. Questions lead you past the uncertainty and false perceptions that influence your daily life and work. The art of questioning is the pathway to smart decisions. Questions help uncover the layers of what is most important to you and  unlock the layers of what is most important to you, and ultimately unlock areas in which you need to grow.

Diving deeply into questions can help strip away beliefs that have molded you into who you are today, allowing the possibility of change and improvement.



What keeps us from asking ourselves the difficult questions?

In conversations with hundreds of leaders around the world, I found a common theme of fear. Fear of taking the next step, fear of not being good enough, fear of not being loved. Fear that the negative things they think about themselves are actually true.

These fears drive our thinking and decision making in ways we may not be aware of. Sometimes we don’t ask the difficult questions, – even of ourselves—because we fear the answers.

You examine your fears by questioning them.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is essential to create the optimal conditions for your growth as a leader. We ask questions to make sense of our world and our places in it. When examining the stories that you believe define you, you must question them.

Fear is an emotion, evolved as part of our DNA to keep us safe. When running across open spaces, fear was useful in knowing whether you should stay and fight or run for your life. You may grapple with less primal concerns: self-confidence, communication skills, decision making, relationships, financial insecurity, career-building strategies. Using thought-provoking questions wisely can provide the insights to create the life and career you want.

I have made it my life journey to understand fear, because fear had kept me in a tight grip since childhood. I became curious and alert to underlying beliefs that kept me thinking and playing small. My journey took me across three continents and countless experiences that challenged me to become the woman I am today: a writer, poet, singer, martial artist, pretty decent wife, mother of four, and a professional coach and facilitator of change.

Fear keeps you from becoming your best self

Fear is a great excuse for standing still. Ask yourself, What’s the worst that could happen if I…?

And if you take the first steps toward being more confident, knowing that no matter what occurs you have the capacity to handle it, what would your life look like?  By taking steps toward a promising future opportunities open and unfold.


Courage is when you feel the fear and push through that feeling to get to the other side of the discomfort. It provides the strength you need to ask someone to stop doing something because you don’t like the outcome, or when you need to step up and find a voice that can be heard above the noise. Courage also provides the strength to know when your best intentions have gone awry and you must face the consequences.

Having the courage to question fear, to question your stories, and to ask yourself meaningful and difficult questions will help you make better judgments and decisions and have long-lasting effects on every dimension of your life.


Steve Jobs asked a fundamental question every day: If today were the last day of your life, would you want to be doing what you’re doing?

Think about that.

Try these three simple and profound questions:

Where am I now?

Where do I want to go?

What is getting in my way?

Questions  accelerate change and clarify your strengths and areas to improve, provide greater understanding of who you are and what is possible, and offer a path to how you can achieve it.

Questions fundamentally stem from curiosity. I’ve been perpetually curious all my life.

Why? is my defining question. What’s that about? follows, and ultimately, What about that matters? is the clarifying question underlying true meaning.

Ask yourself:

What fears are holding me back?

What examples of negative self-talk keep me from taking risks?

What’s the worst thing that can happen if I resist change?

In order to change, you must believe there is something better. You need a vision of where you want to go. What gets in your way may not be clear, but if you are willing to explore and remain open to possibilities, answers can be found. New thinking and behavior come into focus and awaken your insight.

When you are curious, you are open to possibilities and to others’ perspectives. Curiosity allows you to get to know yourself and is critical in learning to listen deeply to others. A mindset of openness and curiosity means you are constantly adding knowledge and understanding to your leadership repertoire.

To be influential, be curious and encourage others to talk about themselves and their ideas.


In my personal journey of transformation, I became aware of the myriad ways in which I diminished myself. I questioned how fear limited my expression of who I was. I looked at the ways I communicated negativity to myself and others to justify my insecurity.

My father had told me thousands of times that I would never amount to much, and for a long time I believed it.

So how did a girl from Leith, Scotland grow up to be a successful motivational speaker, author and executive advisor?

It’s simple but not so easy.I questioned and listened and learned. I consciously changed the language of self-talk that had produced a very different person than the one I am today.

I learned to give myself good advice and to take advice from people who knew better. Slowly, I evolved until I could differentiate between the true me and the BS persona who had occupied my headspace for years.

Self-awareness can be a complicated journey of truths, half-truths and downright lies; figuring out which is which can be complicated. To be successful in any endeavor requires awareness, control, and management of your emotional life.

This means understanding yourself: your goals, intentions, responses, behavior, and how they all fit together. And above all, asking deep, penetrating questions that unravel the limited beliefs and behaviors that hold you back from being your best self.

Self-awareness supplies the motivation to live your life effectively and successfully. Self-trust linked with vision and motivation is the hallmark of successful individuals.


Begin with small steps toward positive action in your life:

  • When you need an answer, figure out which questions to ask.
  • When confronted with a choice, question whether it is good for you.
  • When faced with a decision, ask questions to explore the full range of possibilities.

The difficult and rewarding work of asking powerful questions will challenge your thinking and help you become a courageous and compassionate leader.

You owe it to yourself to remain open and curious, and to allow yourself the time to find your path to fearless leadership by asking questions that accelerate the change you want to see.

Jacqueline Wales is a the author of The Fearless Factor and The Fearless Factor @ Work and other books. Her signature Fearless Change program is designed to teach leaders how to discover the hard truths that change lives. Please feel free to comments or to ask questions!


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