How big is your hat?

During my ongoing engagements with senior leaders, one of the things that I have found to be in short supply at this level is courage.

Many leaders claim to be courageous, many think they are courageous but, when it comes to the crunch, surprisingly few actually are.

There are many reasons for their not being courageous. For one, they’re actually highly compliant people – they’ve got to the top by towing the company line. When you’ve done that all your life and it’s brought you success, there’s no way you’re going to change that approach.

But how can you tell when a person is courageous or not? It’s very simple to identify genuine courage. The person who is genuinely courageous will act courageously. It’s as simple as that. Many people talk a big game but the truth lies not in what they say but in what they do.

The Texans have a delightful expression to describe someone who is all talk and no substance or action. They refer to someone like that by using the phrase, “Big hat, no cattle.” That says it all. It’s easy to buy a big cowboy hat to look like you’re an important rancher, but if you haven’t got the cattle to prove that you ARE actually a rancher, you’re just full of hot air.

How many leaders do you know in our country, in your community and/or in your company that you could say fall into the “big hat, no cattle” category of leaders?

And, for that matter, how about you? Are you a “big hat, no cattle” person – someone who’s all big talk but no action?

Some leaders do have the “cattle” so to speak, but are still all talk and no action when it comes to taking a courageous step. One reason for this is that, particularly in the case of listed companies, executives are not their own people. They’re owned by someone else – the shareholders of the company at which they’re employed. And they’re expected to carry out the shareholders’ instructions. That’s what will determine their salary and their bonuses. So, to expect such an executive to start thinking innovatively, independently and courageously is unrealistic. They’re not going to. They’re going to look after their own interests first and that means not doing anything that will rock the (shareholders’) boat.

Many of them will talk of vision but don’t realise that their vision actually ends at the company’s gates or at the company’s bottom line.

But the question is: how courageous are you?

Test yourself. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so it’s about what you’ve done over the past months, years or decade that will reveal whether you’re all talk and no action.

How many courageous acts have you undertaken? These may have been at work, they may have been at home or they have been acts that no-one else knows about.

You are not courageous if you think courageous thoughts. You are courageous if you take courageous action.

In the home, many parents are not courageous in the way they raise their children. They never want to lose the popularity contest so they are afraid to take courageous action where necessary, and allow their children to grow up wilful, undisciplined and out of control.

At work, many managers or executives are afraid that their own inefficiencies will be revealed if they hold those reporting to them accountable for non-performance. They therefore say and do nothing to hold others accountable and the rot sets in, Very soon, no-one is accountable. This is a problem that is found in both the private and public sectors.

Being courageous doesn’t mean you’ll be bloody minded about everything. It does however mean that, when faced with a difficult decision, you will have the courage to do the right thing.

Imagine what the country and our economy would be like if everyone in government and the public and private sectors had the courage to do the right thing …

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine,, @HRFuturemag, and a professional speaker. He assists executives to prevent, reverse and delay ageing, and achieve self-mastery so that they can live and lead with greatness.

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