Despite the constant struggle with COVID-19, restrictions, and exhaustion that we have been facing over the past two years, the association world has shown that it can pivot and continue to grow in the face of adversity. It takes a great deal of courage from many people to achieve these feats.

I’m tired; physically, mentally, and emotionally tired. The last two years have taken a toll. With the ongoing pandemic and this year’s unrelenting winter, there are days when I feel discouraged. Furthermore, I don’t feel like I’m making a difference. I am unsure and cynical about what is going on around me in the world. There are days when I feel stressed out and burnt out. It takes courage to be a leader. Being courageous is not always about swooping in with a cape and saving the day. It is not always about doing something dramatic or fearless. Often, courage is about consistently showing up, and quietly persevering despite the circumstances.

Leadership takes courage because it comes with risk. It can require making decisions that some people may not agree with or support. Courageous leaders create a culture of trust and respect in their associations, which makes those around them enthusiastic to follow them. For more on leadership, check out my colleague’s article  What Does Leadership Look Like? In exploring courage, I found that many researchers agree that there are three types of courage: TRY, TRUST, and TELL Courage.

TRY Courage

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore” – William Faulkner

TRY Courage is about action. It is initiative. It takes courage to try something new and to step out of your comfort zone. Correspondingly, this is the kind of courage that is demonstrated when someone leads an initiative that your association has never done before.

TRY courage is associated with:

  • “Stepping up to the plate,” such as volunteering for a leadership role on the board
  • The first attempt. The first time you lead an important strategic plan for your association

The risk associated with TRY Courage is that it can affect everyone in your association. Your courageous actions may hurt you, and, perhaps more importantly, other people such as the stakeholders of your association.

TRUST Courage

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen” – Winston Churchill.

TRUST Courage is a crucial component in building strong connections with people. It involves resisting the urge to control other people. TRUST Courage is not about action. Instead, it often involves inaction, or “letting go” of the need for control. With TRUST Courage, you step back and follow the lead of others. A common example of TRUST Courage is delegation. For more on delegation, check out my previous article Effective Delegation for Association Leaders. As an association leader, you must trust your executive director, or your Association Management Company (AMC), and let go. The board sets the strategic vision and mission, and then the executive director and AMC execute it.

TRUST courage is associated with:

  • Releasing control, such as delegating a task
  • Following the lead of others, such as letting a peer facilitate a meeting
  • Trusting that others have positive intentions and giving fellow members the benefit of the doubt

The risk associated with TRUST Courage isn’t that you will harm other people, but that by trusting them, they might harm you. By trusting others, you open yourself up to the possibility of your trust being exploited. Therefore, many people, especially those who have been let down in the past, find trusting people to be very difficult. For them, entrusting others is an act of courage.

TELL Courage

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway” – John Wayne

TELL Courage is the courage of voice. TELL Courage is telling the truth, regardless of how difficult that truth may be for others to hear. It is the courage to not bite your tongue when you feel strongly about something. TELL Courage requires independent thought, and conviction. Additionally, we use TELL Courage when we take responsibility for a mistake or apologize. Whenever we speak up and say what’s hard to say, whether it is speaking the truth, admitting a mistake, or saying “I’m sorry,” we are using TELL Courage.

TELL Courage is associated with:

  • Speaking up and asserting yourself when you feel strongly about an association issue
  • Telling the truth, regardless of where the person to whom you are telling the truth sits in the association hierarchy
  • Providing difficult feedback to a fellow member
  • Admitting mistakes and saying, “I’m sorry.”

TELL Courage comes with risks too. We avoid using TELL Courage because we don’t want to offend others and we fear being cast out. The intrinsic need to build a connection with others is very strong. Moreover, the risk of TELL Courage is that, by speaking up and asserting ourselves, we will be ostracized and won’t belong anymore. For a great example of TELL Courage, read my colleague’s article Teach Your Association Board How to FISH! The Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Argument.

Try, Trust, and Tell

Courage involves moral and mental strength and can be demonstrated every day. If you act in a way that exemplifies these different types of courage, you can help foster an environment that encourages them. This can build your association’s culture into one where members can innovate and grow both personally and professionally.