How to Train Leaders to Act with Courage

I remember when I got feedback one time after a leadership training session that the training needed to include more role-playing.

I hate role-playing.

Or at least participating in it, so I assumed everyone else hates the exercise of pretending too.

But besides hating it, I thought there were other learning methods that could emulate the same type of result that role-playing could, so I avoided it.

But when I think about trying to coach and teach people through critical leadership moments- those that require courage- role-playing, or at least practicing what needs to be done may be the best method of learning short of doing it and just seeing how it goes.

Practice or “preloading a response” as it is called in The Power of Moments, is particularly important in situations where courage is required.  This is because people “often know what the right thing to do is.  The hard part is acting on that judgment.”

Practice can lead to positive outcomes in particular with certain leadership situations like standing or speaking up for what is right, praising someone (most people think they do this enough that practice isn’t needed, but if you watch people in most organizations and leadership positions, it isn’t done nearly enough) and or reprimanding or terminating someone.


This practice of practicing creates a how to do it instead of a what to do guide.

I’m reminded of how important this may be in trying to help our seven year old become a leader.

He’s gotten into trouble this spring more frequently than usual.  Part of this has come through our conscious decision to allow him more freedom.  We are trying to resist the urge to be helicopter parents. Beyond our immediate watchful eyes, he’s made some bad choices and acted in a way that has led to consequences.

We typically handle this behavior by telling him he isn’t doing the right thing according to our family guiding principles: 1) Be kind 2) Be honest. We’ve found that most all kid infractions and for that matter, almost all human infractions, can be summed up in a violation of one or both of these things.

Then after this talk of explaining that he has done wrong, we punish him.

But in getting feedback for ourselves and from others, we hear, “He knows what’s right and wrong.”

He just doesn’t seem to know how to do it.

Especially when he seems to be influenced more than most by what other people think of him especially boys his age.  And Lord knows the seven year old boy brain isn’t a fully developed thing.

So as my husband and I have talked about this, we’ve started to see how we might role play with him through situations he may find himself in where he is tempted to violate being kind and/or being honest.

Moments that require courage.  Courage to go against the crowd.

So, for example, before he leaves our house to go play in the neighborhood or start his school day, we don’t remind him to be kind and honest, we walk through a situation where he might be challenged to do it.

For example:

“Pretend I just made fun of (insert name of someone in his class) by calling them fat.  What would you do next?”

“Your teacher just told you to put down the iPad and start on your math assignment. What will you do next?”

“You knock on (Insert name of friend here) door and he isn’t home.  What will you do next?”

Based on his responses we continue the role-play and what if dialogue.

The responses to these questions may sound like no brainers, but to him they often aren’t.   Just like how to fire someone may be a no brainer to someone seasoned at doing so, but to someone who hasn’t ever done it, it’s not.

The scenarios are endless in his seven year old world and in the world of leadership, and there is no way for us to cover them all.  But by bringing things up before they happen and allowing time for him to think through what he will do- “preloading a response” we hope he will be enabled to know how to act with courage and kindness and honesty, instead of having to deal with the consequences that come because he simply hasn’t practiced to make perfect.


How do you help leaders practice the hard stuff?  The stuff in which courage is made?


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Mary Ila Ward