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Courageous Leadership

March 14, 2018



I thought about pursuing an Ed.D. this fall, but turns out I missed the application deadline. I had already written my essay, and it feels like a huge bummer if it just sits in my Google Drive in my drafts folder for ages. So here you go, world =]


On Courageous Leadership


I teach yoga three times a week. Originally, I took it on as more of a hobby that paid well and came with a free gym membership, but I find myself learning more and more from my students with each class. Yoga is an interesting discipline. At the base, it requires one thing: a steady breath. From there, everything else follows: calm intellect, intensity to strengthen physically, the ability to yoke the mind and body. I have students who can do every pose beautifully, they transition from posture to posture like dancers. And I have students for whom touching their toes or lifting their arms overhead is a challenge to overcome. 


When it comes to a discussion on courageous leadership, a yoga class might seem like an odd place to start.  I doubt any of the students would consider themselves courageous leaders. But it is in their practice that I find my definition of--and inspiration to become--a courageous leader.  


My students are courageous leaders when, rather than push through a punishing practice that aggravates a sore knee, they take a resting posture for a few moments. Whether they realize it or not, by taking the rest for themselves, they give others permission to do the same, thus spreading a kind of power. My students are courageous leaders when they persist in coming to class, even though they vocalize feelings of frustration with themselves, their bodies, their inability to completely quiet the mind. It takes courage to return to a space that is uncomfortable, and turn it into something else. 


Until I started teaching, I never considered my own ability to be a courageous leader, much less cultivate the courageous leader in others. When we think of courageous leaders in society, it seems highly subjective. One might turn to Marvel super heroes, like Iron Man or Captain America. We look to history: Gandhi, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr. These people are, in a phrase, larger than life. They are giants of the genre, their deeds in one lifetime so much more impactful than what millions of others accomplish in a life.


There is a quote (it has nearly passed into cliche) that was printed on a journal one of my sisters gave me when I was younger. It is from Mary Anne Rademacher. To paraphrase, it says that courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’  This quote has stayed with me for decades. Sometimes it comes to me when I am practicing headstands, other times when I am struggling to sleep while a difficult situation runs itself over and over in my mind. And it comes back to me again the next day, when I push my mat up to the wall to invert the world again. And when I request a meeting with a coworker to have a difficult but necessary conversation. And, of course, when I teach. 


Courageous leadership has many components. In my experience, the most important is in learning to cultivate courage in yourself, so much so that, in turn, you give others the power to feel courageous as well. Whether they know it or not.


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