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Being a Courageous People Leader

Listen, as a coach I am seeing a lot of movement in the market as we close out the end of the year. Some of it positive and some of it negative.

As many of us have experienced, layoffs and organizational restructures are common at the end of the year. I know - it’s the worst timing with the holiday season upon us! However, I have a desperate plea for any people leaders out there.

So grab a cup of tea, a cozy blanket, and listen up!

The world needs you to be courageous.

courageous leadership

Alright, where is all of this coming from? Let’s get into it.

This past week I met with a prospective client who recently went through an organizational restructure. They’re a director level, data expert, with experience leading a couple of employees.  (A few months ago, recruiters could not stop reaching out on LinkedIn or calling them, their data expertise being quite appealing in general).  This person was wise enough to understand the restructure was nothing personal nor was it due to personal deficits, but was simply a sign of the economic state of the company.

It should have been a pretty straight forward (albeit unpleasant) layoff. However, this individual’s exit experience went from an unfortunate situation to a personal blow through the lack of empathy and care exhibited throughout the process.

The HR representative and the functional leader did exactly what you would expect:

  • Professional Delivery

  • Precise Process

  • Clear Messaging

difficult conversation as a leader

Unfortunately, one prominent individual was missing from this entire process - their direct leader. Their direct leader was nowhere to be found and AT NO POINT reached out during this time. Not directly following the news, not after one day, not ever. What a miss!


After several years of working together, it was like their shared humanity had never existed. Poof. Vanished.

Why did this happen?? I have a few theories…

  • The manager may have felt uncomfortable reaching out.

  • The manager didn’t feel equipped with the skills to have a hard conversation.

  • Or maybe the company even gave guidance for the manager to not reach out.


All of these reasons are understandable. 

However, I find it incredibly difficult not to shout as loud as I can: 

“People leaders, I implore you to treat fellow humans with dignity. Acknowledge what your (ex)employee is going through, acknowledge their experience and the difficulty of it.  Acknowledge that you see them, that this sucks, and if you have faith in them, let them know that as well.”


Managerial courage is not easy. It can be very uncomfortable, making one want to recoil on the inside. There is some good news though…you don’t have to do it alone. Get some help: a fellow leader with whom you can rehearse what you will say. Prep with your HR partner, ask a loved one who has gone through it, or even hire a coach. There are so many options!

Bonus! Every time you show up and embrace courage you receive a dopamine boost that helps you (re)wire your brain with the message "I can do hard things". And with life being life, you are bound to need that skill again!

Managerial courage is not just needed at the time of exit.

being a courageous leader is important year round

I would love to see courageous managers show up in these situations as well:

  • Have the necessary development conversations, as issues arise (constructive feedback)

  • Redefining or setting new boundaries 

  • Take an unpopular stand, challenge the status quo in the presence of senior leaders

  • Hiring a person that will bring diversity to the team versus a mini-me

This said, because this is not something that most people are comfortable with, practice will make it easier after a while.

What might that look like?

  • Start small: spend time observing what creates discomfort for you during the day. What situation do you tend to shy away from? (if journaling or listing is a thing for you, use it for this purpose!)

  • Start positive: give a compliment to someone, make sure it is genuine though! This will start the re-wiring process

  • Have a courageous lunch: sit with a person you trust and practice having a challenging conversation

  • Add to your weekly goal list: “have one courageous conversation by Friday”

I find this quote helps me when I encounter a moment of faltering:  “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it” (Nelson Mandela). Maybe it will help you too.

And if you are looking for professional help to help you step into your courageous era as a manager or people leader (or as a human), please reach out. I would love to chat with you!


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