I’ve long been a fan of alliteration. I’m also crazy curious about numbers – I knew from an early age exactly how old I would be when the world hit the new millennium. I’ll make up rhymes and conjure philosophies with all A words or Z words. With that in mind, I often think about Leadership and EQ in terms of the alphabet. This time, the letter “C” caught my interest.

Contemplating Leadership and the letter, C, many words came crashing into my consciousness. Commitment, Connection, Critical-thinking, Command, Control, Conversation, – all great words. As the C’s began to take shape, three words emerged as a triumvirate formula for powerful leadership, creating a Leadership Secret Weapon. To be effective today and have impact across generations, cultures and mind-sets, leaders must possess, practice and master Courage, Compassion and Curiosity.

Real Leadership requires COURAGE

Susan Pearce writes in a 2016 HuffPost blog,

“…when you accept the invitation to be a real leader, you are accepting the condition of feeling uncomfortable. Every single day. At the basic level the definition of a leader is someone who goes first.”

Today’s environment, especially with all of the focus on millennial work requirements, does not favor old-time definitions of battle-field courage. Our current environment requires the kind of emotional and deep self-awareness courage that propels you forward into the fast-paced, people-executing decisions that are not a part of any current rule-book. Authenticity, transparency, decision-making and risks all are enhanced when your courage muscle is flexed.

Courage asks that you face and overcome fear. Fear shows up in all kinds of ways – self-doubt, indecision, not engaging in necessary conflict and dialogue, going along with the crowd.  This is behavior that keeps you squarely inside of your comfort zone, protected behind the bunker with head hidden in the sand.

Speaking of comfort zones, courage requires that you risk yourself out of the comfort zone. You won’t be happy in the moment, guaranteed, but remember that every time you venture out of the zone, you expand and take on more leadership band-with. You cannot lead effectively from inside the foxhole. That’s why it’s often called a leap of faith.

You are going to feel fear, but it will not paralyze you.

Remember there are tangible benefits for courageous behavior. People trust you, you can experiment, failing quickly is a norm, sneaky or hidden conversations can be surfaced quickly and courage has a funny way of enhancing accountability.

Courage also commands intelligence. You must be smart. Courageous actions and decisions are not made in folly – they are a bi-product of practice over time, data from decision making and keenly understanding both your (and company’s) values and priorities.

“Wherever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
Peter Drucker



Real Leadership demands CURIOSITY

Curiosity shows up as the willingness to ask questions and then listen, genuinely seeking feedback and input from team members, surfacing assumptions, admitting mistakes and navigating the complex.

Those who lack curiosity are in danger of sticking inside the comfort zone of what is already known.  Can you imagine the implications of this rigidity in the light of Artificial Intelligence and the rapid advancement of innovation and technology?

Curiosity and Courage go hand in hand and often enjoy similar benefits:
Curiosity surfaces hidden agendas, contentious opinions, conflict and all with an open-ness and innocence of discovery.

Great leaders create breakthroughs by challenging the status quo. That challenge, coupled with curiosity, allows the breakthroughs to happen in community. Involving other people, networks are build, debate is encouraged, disparate ideas are synthesized and trust is built during the distillation process of decision making.

  • Curious leaders listen without agenda and are okay being wrong.
  • Open ended questions without a pre-conceived outcome are their friends.
  • They promote experimentation, questioning the legacy and surfacing the new, no matter where the idea comes from.

All of this is done in the spirit of adventure, of discovery, of wonder and with suspended judgment. This is the old Star-Trek mantra of “boldly going where no one has gone before”. The sense of adventure is palpable.

To become more curious, suspend your assumptions and ask great open-ended questions. Then, listen in the spirit of the student in order to learn and expand.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”



Real leadership models COMPASSION

I like how Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn summed it up in 2016 Business Insider article, “Compassion” (is) understanding that their team members don’t necessarily see the world in the same way they do, and then making an effort to listen and understand rather than dictate”.

It takes self-awareness to be able to show up with compassion. Compassion has traditionally been viewed as weakness in corporate America. With the visibility of compassionate leaders such as Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn and the spotlight on mindfulness that we are witnessing in many corporate environments, compassion is rapidly emerging as a secret weapon.

Understanding and expressing facts is not enough (although people DO want to follow smart leaders). Adding the element of emotional clarity is important as people want to know that you feel what you feel and are unafraid of naming the emotion. More importantly, they want to know that you are aware of how they feel and can hold a space for the expression of their emotions.

This involves a reframing of me to we and is a strong driver of discretionary performance. It also involves the willingness to navigate frequently between the head and the heart, understanding that business is largely driven by people who have emotions.

A unique quality of compassion is the ability to transcend empathy (powerful unto itself) and have an inner knowing of what to DO or NOT to do in a situation to be of service.

A compassionate leader has a reservoir of inner strength, rising above the ego to become vulnerable for ourselves and others.  This modeling of power is transformative.

 “Compassion brings us to a stop, and for a moment we rise above ourselves.”
Mason Cooley



Your Secret Weapon

To sum it up, Compassion requires personal Courage and is a strong precursor to and follower to Curiosity. Suspending assumptions and judgement, understanding how to manage emotions (mine and yours) and having the courage of vulnerability, open discussion and transparency – there is your super secret leadership weapon.

A great result is that your employees see how you are acting and they feel safe with you. That safety permits them to give more discretionary effort which turns into engagement. Conflicts and problems are more easily surfaced and turned into opportunities. People are happier and your work, although never simple or easy, can be executed with less bumps and bruises.

Guess who else feels all of this? Your customers – the lifeline of your business. It pays in dividends to be curious, courageous and compassionate. These are all muscles that can be developed with your commitment and with practice.

There is major fire-power in this combination of Emotional Intelligence, IQ, courage, curiosity and compassion.

Where will you start?

Stay Inspired!




Mary Pat Knight, CEO of Leaders Inspired, is a Transformation Strategist, Speaker, Facilitator, and Coach committed to leadership and emotional intelligence in the workplace. She is known for cutting through corporate drama to create laser focus for powerful business and personal results for her clients. 

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