On Courageous Leadership and the Humans We Support

We’re just over halfway to the February break–how are you holding up? 

Leadership in these times is no joke.  A recent EdWeek.org story was titled, Awake at 2am; Agonizing Over Life-and-Death Decisions: A Superintendent’s Story.  When the stress of it all gets to be too much – and it does – we all know it impacts our leadership, whether we want to admit that or not.  Whether you are leading a district, a faculty, or a classroom, we can move into self-preservation mode without even realizing it. In her 2018 book Dare to Lead, Dr. Brené Brown refers to this as “putting on our armor.”  Brown reminds us that, “Courage and fear are not mutually exclusive. Most of us feel brave and afraid at the exact same time. We feel vulnerable. Sometimes all day long” (p. 10). And when this gets to be too much, we armor up, forgetting self-compassion and patience with ourselves, let alone for those we lead. 

So how do you move back to a place where you are grounded and open, and ready to courageously lead? For me, I seek out some of my favorite leadership wisdom, and right now, that is coming from Simon Sinek. This talk is a regular go-to for me when it comes to reconnecting with my purpose and reminding me to remove the armor. There are so many great points throughout, but here are a few that I carry with me: 

✳On making the transition from a manager to a leader:

“𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒍 𝒋𝒐𝒃 𝒐𝒇 𝒂 𝒍𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒆𝒓 𝒊𝒔 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒃𝒆𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒊𝒏 𝒄𝒉𝒂𝒓𝒈𝒆, 𝒊𝒕’𝒔 𝒂𝒃𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒕𝒂𝒌𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒄𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒔𝒆 𝒘𝒉𝒐 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝑰𝑵 𝑶𝑼𝑹 𝑪𝑯𝑨𝑹𝑮𝑬.”

It is very easy to default to “being a knower and being right” (p.90) as Brown writes in Daring Leadership.  But this is a behavior of “being in charge,” instead of being open and supportive of those who we are meant to be leading, not managing.  In these moments, remind yourself to ask one more question before speaking what you know; it’s amazing what a well-placed, “can you tell me more about that?” can do for a situation. 

✳Why leadership is so hard:

“𝑾𝒉𝒆𝒏 𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒚𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒈𝒐𝒆𝒔 𝒓𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕, 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒉𝒂𝒗𝒆 𝒕𝒐 𝒈𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒂𝒘𝒂𝒚 𝒂𝒍𝒍 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒓𝒆𝒅𝒊𝒕. 𝑾𝒉𝒆𝒏 𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒚𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒈𝒐𝒆𝒔 𝒘𝒓𝒐𝒏𝒈, 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒉𝒂𝒗𝒆 𝒕𝒐 𝒕𝒂𝒌𝒆 𝒂𝒍𝒍 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒑𝒐𝒏𝒔𝒊𝒃𝒊𝒍𝒊𝒕𝒚.”

And we all know, that there are some days when a whole lot more goes wrong than goes right, and the LAST thing you want to say is, “I know, this one is on me,” but this is another way to take care of those in our charge, so they have the courage and the stamina to fight another day, too. 

✳And then, the story of Noah at the Four Seasons around minute 5:15:

“𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒍𝒊𝒕𝒚 𝒊𝒔, 𝒊𝒕’𝒔 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒂𝒃𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒑𝒆𝒐𝒑𝒍𝒆, 𝒊𝒕’𝒔 𝒂𝒃𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒍𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒉𝒊𝒑.”

I come back to this story again and again. How you show up as a leader makes all the difference. It’s easy to put on the armor and deflect someone’s behavior back to them, but we are the ones creating the conditions for those in our charge to thrive. And this can be terribly difficult when we’re exhausted, and it’s only February. 


I have no magic elixir to make February easier, except maybe to remind you that you have survived February before. Are the circumstances different this year?  They sure are. But they were also different last year, and here we are. I invite you to reconnect with whatever brings you inspiration, and use those moments to remember that you’ve got this. 



Brown, Brené. (2018). Dare to lead. Random House.

Cognitive Leap. (2020, November 18).   Simon Sinek – EMPATHY – One of Simon Sinek’s best speeches  EVER [Video]. https://youtu.be/oUWMgHyf1bg


With more than two decades of experience in education around the globe, Kristen Moreland is committed to bringing humanity back to education. A former middle school English teacher and Instructional Coach, she is currently serving as the Director of Teaching and Learning for the Littleton Schools in Littleton, New Hampshire. You can follow her on Twitter @kmorekin and on Instagram @educatorsforhumanity