Steward Leadership through Courage

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2.jpgCourage is a word that brings up a lot of strong images. Often these images are of military prowess, or of rescuing someone against all odds, or taking a stand against an overwhelming majority. These images help us see - and sometimes keep us from seeing. Plato's approach pulls our eyes in a different direction.


Plato has an interesting approach to courage - one that could help leaders who want to do good while doing well. He says that courage is a "belief concerning what is and what is not to be feared." (Republic IV.430, Modern Library edition (New York: Knopf, 1906, 1935, 1976, 1992).


Knowing what is to be feared - and what is not - helps us as we steward our organizations.


  • Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Courage, as such, keeps us from foolish risks. It also keeps us from being so risk averse that we get nothing done.
  • Courage, as Plato defines it, causes us to approach people for sales, marketing, or networking without playing on their base fears - their phobias and their "isms", in particular.
  • Courage presses us to do what is right, even when it is not convenient.
  • Courage even keeps us centered in lines of business that eschew using others' fears as leverage. We just don't sell people services or products based upon their irrational, unfounded fears. 
  • For those of us who work in consulting, courage gives us voice when those we are helping are stuck or spiraling.


As we have discussed these four civic virtues described by Plato (prudence, temperance, courage, justice), we have seen that they, while they may sound quaint to our ears, help us to counterbalance the prevailing sense of outrage that we often see. Moreover, they help us manage our organizations well.


As we consider courage, we realize that these four virtues may not yet complete the framework for solid steward leadership virtue. Three remain (but not of Platonic origin); we will discuss them presently.


I'm curious to see how you apply courage as you lead your organization.

How do you manage the use of virtue? If you wouldn't mind, e-mail me  and let me know how you see virtue at work.


We'd also like to provide you with a resource describing the balance of decision-making process: more reflective, or more active? Which way do you tend?


Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, steward leadership, Leadership courage