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Rethink Courageous Leadership: 12 Inspirational Quotes From Martin Luther King Jr. And Others

Post by Sabina Nawaz

January 23rd, 2016

As we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day today, the Twitterverse is alive with references to the man and his legacy. For me, King is synonymous with courage. Which got me to thinking: yes, it takes courage to inspire others, but we often misunderstand the kind of courage it takes to lead. The courage to lead does not just involve a bold, public-facing bravery, but also a quieter, more introspective kind of courage.

With King in particular, we may think of his seminal moment addressing a crowd of 250,000 people from the Lincoln Memorial on a hot August day in 1963. But a moment like that was the culmination of a thousand smaller acts of bravery that came before it. Imagine the first time Dr. King had to step forward, look directly into the eyes of an adversary and say, “I will not back down.” These  small acts of courage are where true leadership begins. Strong leaders know that daily acts of showing up, and revealing your thoughts, ideals and principles, are what’s most important.

Here are 12 inspirational quotes from King and other leaders that inspire me. My hope is that even if you’ve encountered some of these words before, you’ll re-read the quotes from a fresh perspective and think not about the grand, daring acts, but the small heroic moments when these famous leaders revealed their motivations to others.

Martin Luther King Junior:

If you aspire to exercise leadership, follow Dr. King’s example and lead with courage today – standing for your own principles, supporting others and showing up to do the small tasks that need to get done every day.

“Courage faces fear and thereby masters it.  Cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living even through their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live. We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.”

“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles;
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency asks the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”

Winston Churchill:

Thanks in large part to the startup culture, failure is increasingly embraced as a necessary and even beneficial part of business. Still it takes courage to fail. As a leader you may court the lessons, but shun the experience as the teacher. Who wouldn’t rather pick up a few tips from a good book? Let someone else fail and then learn from their mistakes. The problem is by avoiding the inevitable bumps and bruises you’re also deprived of one of the great revelations found in experience: failure is not the end: failure is the opportunity to expand your definition of success. I have a colleague who was unsuccessful in his career as a writer, so he decided to try public speaking. He now earns six figures doing what he loves. By failing at writing, he was able to open up new doors to success. Winston Churchill had similar thoughts about failure.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Eleanor Roosevelt:

There’s a cost to not showing up fully as a leader. It’s living with fear daily. And not the kind of fear that comes from the thrill of testing your abilities, but rather the gnawing dread of knowing you’re not living up to your potential.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”

Mahatma Gandhi:

Sometimes not doing what’s expected or following the crowd is an act of courage. Every leader I coach has a personal story of a moment that defines leadership for them. In nearly every case that moment involves stepping away from the cover of a crowd to take an authentic stand.

“It’s easy to stand in the crowd but it takes courage to stand alone.”

Nelson Mandela:

It isn’t always possible to be fearless, but by simply showing up you can be courageous. Nelson Mandela refused to be ignored even when his government put him out of sight in prison.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Harvey Milk:

Simply asking for what you want can be one of the boldest acts of courage. Revealing your preferences, desires and dreams means revealing your true nature. Early gay rights activist Harvey Milk is a prime example of asking for and achieving his goals and inspiring millions of others to do the same.

“Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.”

Walt Disney:

Leaders demonstrating courage not only realize their own dreams, but help make other’s dreams seem possible. Disney created entire industries and inspired new worlds of imagination by sharing his vision.

“Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion no matter where it is exercised.”

Courage is a muscle that gets stronger each time you use it. I’d love to hear in the comments section below about a small step you’re going to take towards your act of leadership.

To learn more about stepping into personal courage so you can thrive as a leader, visit sabinanawaz.com and request information about coaching, keynotes, and workshops.

This article is a re-post. The original article appeared on Forbes.com

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