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Procurement Perspectives — The art of courage and leadership

Stephen Bauld
Procurement Perspectives — The art of courage and leadership

When Gen. George C. Marshall was asked what qualities he looked for when selecting the American theatre commanders for the Second World War, he replied: “Courage; courage is the most important characteristic of leadership because all others depend on it – not the courage to take out the machine gun or charge the hill, but the courage to do what is right.”

When the odds are long, courage will often be the one critical element that wins the day.

Even when every plan has failed, when all resources are exhausted and every hope is gone, courage can still be another leadership skill and attribute.

As Dr. Samuel Johnson observed: “Courage is the greatest of all virtues, because if you haven’t courage, you may not have an opportunity to use any of the others.”

Nevertheless, as with all virtues, there are limits to the benefits that courage affords.

It is no substitute for wisdom and it does not justify one in being unreasonable.

Courage is contagious.

When a brave person takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.

Thus, the courage of the leader inspires the rank and file within the organization.

A person who lacks courage will lack the ability to make hard choices.

When confronted with options he or she will always take the easier path, rather than the path that seems most right or necessary in the circumstances.

Those who lack courage quickly learn to hide the truth and by so doing they lose their credibility.

A leader must sometimes act in a manner that is unfashionable, unorthodox, unpopular or must do something that is distasteful, unpleasant or risky.

A person who lacks courage never can.

Courage may be defined as facing and accepting things that are dangerous, difficult or painful in a fearless manner.

It incorporates the willingness to stand up for matters of principle. It is not the absence of fear that marks a person as courageous, it is the refusal to give into fear.

Without fear, there can be no courage.

Acting in defiance of fear, rather than without fear, is the meaning of courage. In the words of Knute Rockne: “What is courage? Courage means to be afraid to do something and still going ahead and doing it. If a man has character, the right kind of energy and mental ability, he will learn that fear is something to overcome and not to run away from.”

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that the means of winning the easiest victory over reason is through terror and force. Yet neither can defeat true courage.

While there can be reason without courage while times are good, only courage can save reason during times of adversity.

Those who lack confidence are generally unable to act when required.

They shirk away from necessary measures, cringing in petrifaction.

There is nothing wrong with fear as such.

Fear is common to all animals. It is the instinctive response when confronted by a threat that puts life or safety in peril or is perceived to do so.

Fear is also a response to uncertainly. Thus, we fear the unknown.

Fear becomes a danger to the organization when it leads to paralysis and irrational behaviour. It is a danger to the individual when it causes destructive anguish.

Fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty.

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
In contrast, his or her other good qualities may simply be suppressed due to fear.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear and the ability to work on despite the fears that exist.

As Abraham Lincoln observed, “It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong.”

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at

Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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