You have the opportunity to lead: to show up with confidence, connected to others, and committed to a purpose in a way that inspires others to follow. Maybe it’s in your workplace, or in your relationships, or simply in your own life. But great leadership—leadership that aligns teams, inspires action, and achieves results—is hard. And what makes it hard isn’t theoretical, it’s practical. It’s not about knowing what to say or do. It’s about whether you’re willing to experience the discomfort, risk, and uncertainty of saying or doing it. In other words, the most critical challenge of leadership is emotional courage. If you are willing to feel everything, you can do anything.
Leading with Emotional Courage, based on the author’s popular blogs for Harvard Business Review, provides practical, real-world advice for building your emotional courage muscle. Each short, easy to read chapter details a distinct step in this emotional “workout,” giving you grounded advice for handling the difficult situations without sacrificing professional ground. By building the courage to say the necessary but difficult things, you become a stronger leader and leave the “should’ves” behind.
Theoretically, leadership is straightforward, but how many people actually lead? The gap between theory and practice is huge. Emotional courage is what bridges that gap. It’s what sets great leaders apart from the rest. It gets results. It cuts through the distractions, the noise, and the politics to solve problems and get things done. This book is packed with actionable steps you can take to start building these skills now.
- Have the courage to speak up when others remain silent
- Be stable and grounded in the face of uncertainty
- Respond productively to opposition without getting distracted
- Weather others’ anger without shutting down or getting defensive
Leading with Emotional Courage coaches you to build your emotional courage, exercise it effectively, and create an environment in which people around you take accountability to get hard things done.
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About the Author
Table of ContentsWhy You Should Read This Book xxv
Self Assessment xxxvii
BUILD YOUR CONFIDENCE 1
PART ONE KNOW WHO YOU ARE 3
Chapter 1 Be Yourself 5
The High Cost of Conformity, and How to Avoid It
Chapter 2 Find Your Ground 9
Stay Steady, Balanced, and Calm
Chapter 3 Stay Curious About Yourself 13
How to Ask for Feedback That Will Actually Help You
Chapter 4 Access Self-Compassion 17
The Problem with High Expectations
Chapter 5 Embrace Your Shadow 21
How to Avoid Becoming the Person You Hate
Chapter 6 It’s Not All About Achievement 25
Stop Worrying About How Much You Matter
PART TWO BECOME WHO YOU WANT TO BE 29
Chapter 7 Find Clarity 31
What’s Your One Big Theme?
Chapter 8 Become More of Who You Are 35
You’re Already Pretty Amazing
Chapter 9 Stay Focused 39
You Need to Practice Being Your Future Self
Chapter 10 Be Strategic and Intentional 43
Five Steps to Investing Your Energy More Wisely
Chapter 11 Don’t Lose Yourself in Pursuit of Becoming Yourself 47
Take Your Life Back
Chapter 12 How Will You Measure Success? 51
Why You Should Treat Laughter as a Metric
CONNECT WITH OTHERS 55
PART ONE BE CURIOUS AND TRUSTING 57
Chapter 13 The Impact of Trust 59
The Real Secret of Thoroughly Excellent Companies
Chapter 14 Stay Open 63
How to Really Listen
Chapter 15 Stay Curious About Others 67
People Can’t Be Summed Up by Personality Tests
Chapter 16 Stay Creative 71
Are You Trying to Solve the Wrong Problem?
Chapter 17 Be Useful 75
Hold the Baby
Chapter 18 Make People Feel Good 79
How Not to Lose a Sale
PART TWO BE CLEAR AND TRUSTWORTHY 83
Chapter 19 Everyone Is Contagious 85
How to Use Your Superpower for Good
Chapter 20 Use Fear as a Guide 89
How to Talk About What You Most Dread
Chapter 21 Lead with the Punchline 93
How to Start a Hard Conversation
Chapter 22 Skillful Communication in the Heat of the Moment 97
Outsmart Your Next Angry Outburst
Chapter 23 Own Your Stuff 101
I Want You to Apologize
Chapter 24 Let Others Know You See Them 105
20 Seconds to a Better Bonus
COMMIT TO PURPOSE 109
PART ONE ENERGIZE YOUR FOCUS 111
Chapter 25 Play Hard 113
Nadal Is Strong Enough to Cry; Are You?
Chapter 26 Know Where You’re Going 117
Define Your Big Arrow
Chapter 27 Focus Where It Matters 123
Four Areas to Focus Your Attention
Chapter 28 Use Your Focus as a Filter 127
Use Your First Day Back from Vacation to Energize Your Focus
Chapter 29 You Can’t Say It Enough 131
The Mouthwash Principle: For Energized Focus, Rinse and Repeat
Chapter 30 And Sometimes It’s Better to Say Less 135
If You Want People to Listen, Stop Talking
PART TWO FOCUS THEIR ENERGY 139
Chapter 31 Gifted, Game, and Generous 141
Three Qualities All Leaders Need to Cultivate Within Their Teams
Chapter 32 Engage from the Beginning 145
The Farm-to-Table Method of Focusing the Energy of Your Team
Chapter 33 Helping Others Be Trustworthy 149
The Secret to Ensuring Follow-Through
Chapter 34 Creating Accountability 153
Five Building Blocks for a Culture of Accountability
Chapter 35 Bigger Than You 157
Why Leaders Should Try to Be Overwhelmed
Chapter 36 Improving Performance After a Critical Error (PACE) 161
How to React When Someone Disappoints
ELEMENT FOUR CULTIVATE
EMOTIONAL COURAGE 165
PART ONE FEEL COURAGEOUSLY 167
Chapter 37 Know What You Are Feeling 169
Develop Your Awareness
Chapter 38 Feeling Is Physical 173
Dance with Your Monster
Chapter 39 Practice Feeling 177
Chapter 40 Feel Uncertainty 181
The Emotional Adventure of Leadership
Chapter 41 Be Willing to Feel the Hard Stuff 185
Why Leaders Must Feel Pain
Chapter 42 Feel Everything 189
Allow for Complexity
PART TWO ACT BOLDLY 193
Chapter 43 Risk Is the Key to Leadership 195
Unlocking Your Success Equation
Chapter 44 Build Your Risk Muscle 199
The Small Personal Risks That Change Behavior
Chapter 45 Make a Decision 203
Act Boldly to Get Moving
Chapter 46 Risk Truth 207
It’s Your Job to Tell the Bold Truths
Chapter 47 Try Something Different 211
The Unexpected Power of Inauthenticity
Chapter 48 The Limitless Possibility of Now 215
A Question That Can Change Your Life
About the Author 223
What People are Saying About This
CEOs and Business Leaders
Leading with Emotional Courage is a trailblazing idea, inspirational manifesto and eminently achievable manual. Peter Bregman’s central idea, “if you can feel everything, you can do anything,” instantly became my motto for forging more productive and rewarding relationships in every aspect of my life. It’s ingenious, it’s intuitive, and it works.
Jeffrey Seller, Four time Tony Award winning producer of Hamilton, Rent, Avenue Q, In the Heights.
Leading with Emotional Courage is a terrific guide that explains why and how we need to look inward before we can drive leadership forward. It will also help you connect on a deeper level with those around you—an absolute necessity if you want to get your most important work done.
James A. Forese, President, Citigroup
Peter is a master storyteller who offers compelling and important takeaways that really do make a difference. The principles in this book are the ones I believe in, and they are aligned with those that helped me and my tribe build a culture that resulted in a 93% employee engagement level at WD-40 Company.
Garry Ridge – CEO WD-40 Company & coauthor with Ken Blanchard of Helping People Win at Work
We must see ourselves ‘life size,’ as Peter Drucker instructed. Leading with Emotional Courage is a leader’s blueprint to do so.
Frances Hesselbein, Chairman, The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum, Former CEO of the Girl Scouts, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient
Becoming a Values-based leader requires you to first be capable of leading yourself. Peter does a fantastic job of demonstrating why emotional courage is absolutely key to your personal leadership journey. I learned a lot by reading Peter’s book.
Harry Kraemer, Jr, Professor, Northwestern Kellogg School of Mgmt; Former Chairman and CEO, BAXTER International
After reading this book, you will want to share it with your colleagues, your kids, and others in your life. Peter is a master at drawing readers in with self-evaluation, compelling stories, and concrete take-aways. This book will stay on my bookshelf as a reference.
Asheesh Advani, CEO, JA (Junior Achievement) Worldwide
Leading with Emotional Courage is good for business, good for people, and good for the planet. Bregman’s book offers the communications tools environmentalists and other nonprofit leaders need to transform tough conversations into progress and action.
Mark R. Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy
Leading with Emotional Courage" brilliantly identifies the often unnoticed emotional undercurrents of high-stakes business situations and the dynamics of everyday interactions. By making conscious the unconscious, this book offers us control over our own decisions and actions, asking us to open our minds and be curious when emotions are provoked. It has helped me personally to turn some of my most counter-productive reactions into questions. With practical, real-life examples and bite-sized nuggets of information, this book is relevant to everyone, not just ultra-senior leadership.
Michael Thatcher, CEO, Charity Navigator
At the end of the day, Peter gives useful tools for people to own their unique strength and power to be bold leaders in the board room and at the kitchen table.
Randall Tucker, Mastercard Chief Inclusion Officer
Emotional Courage is the foundation for inspirational and effective leadership. Peter Bregman’s groundbreaking and timely book, Leading with Emotional Courage, does not merely inspire action, it cultivates it. Through concrete and actionable how-to’s and compelling stories, this book will change the way you make decisions, how you speak in a boardroom, and actually how you feel at the end of each day. Leading with Emotional Courage is right on target and surprisingly different than anything out there. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time!
James M. Citrin, Leader, Spencer Stuart CEO Practice, Author, You’re in Charge, Now What?
Authors and Thought Leaders
This is a brave and generous book about being brave and generous. Emotional courage isn't about getting what we want, it's about serving others. Peter Bregman is sharing useful magic here.
Seth Godin, Author, Linchpin
Emotional courage is the courage to feel. It’s what stands between us and the difficult things we must do as leaders. Emotional courage grows stronger when you practice it—by taking a risk, making a decision, or otherwise following through when you may not be comfortable doing so. It’s about getting out of your own way and having the emotional freedom to act. Want to know more? Then follow through and read this book!
Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The New One Minute Manager® and Servant Leadership in Action
Peter’s concept of Emotional Courage is a game-changer. It isn’t just another theory about productivity or leadership—it’s a truth you can feel. It affects every aspect of your leadership and every relationship in your life. The beauty of this book is that it helps you actually strengthen those critical mental-emotional muscles and will make even the most successful leaders better.
Marshall Goldsmith – The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Triggers
LEADING WITH EMOTIONAL COURAGE tackles a tough subject that isn't much talked about in the business world: the hard emotions that we all experience. If you courageously adopt the advice in this breakthrough book, you can begin the tough conversations that lead to real change, build more trusting relationships, and perhaps even become an inspiration to others.
Daniel H. Pink, author of WHEN and DRIVE
Want to learn how to brave the fears associated with difficult interpersonal exchanges on the job and elsewhere? Emotional Courage, brimming with applicable insights and lessons, is definitely the book for you.
Robert B. Cialdini, Author of Influence and Pre-Suasion
Change begins from within; so does leadership. Bregman’s insights help leaders gain personal confidence so that they can approach others with a clear purpose and bold, courageous actions. This marvelous book lets me feel like Peter is sitting next to me, coaching me how to be more effective. The insights resonate, the assessments inform, and the stories inspire.
Dave Ulrich Rensis Likert Professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan Partner, The RBL Group
It's incredibly refreshing to get this sort of wise and kind advice from someone who specializes in helping leaders get "massive traction". Most voices you'd hear today urging "massive traction" would speak fast, hard, unrelenting exhortations couched in inspirational illustrations of super-human performance. As human-centered-designers, we at the Life Design Lab at Stanford aren't too keen on those driven voices. We're looking to help people be more human - not super-human, which is a very different, and frankly in-human, thing. Peter Bregman has a different voice. What other "massive traction-getting” coaches will suggest that compassion is a critical foundation of self-confidence or that you need to master irrelevancy if you're going to succeed (and better do so well before retirement)? I've been assigning students to read Peter's contrary ideas for years and I recommend this book to you. I finally got to share coffee with him face-to-face on Spring and had one of the best first dates of all time. Pull up a chair with this book and share a coffee with Peter. You'll have a lovely time and be better for it.
Dave Evans, Co-Founder, Stanford Life Design Lab, Co-author, NYT #1 Bestseller, Designing Your Life, Early Apple, Co-founder Electronic Arts
Emotional courage is the superpower of the 21st Century! We live in a world where it is far easier to avoid our feelings than it is to feel them. As such, emotional courage is becoming rare at the same time that it is increasingly valuable. The people who cultivate emotional courage—who are confident, connected, and committed to their purpose—will thrive. Leading with Emotional Courage is an accessible action plan for breaking through the emotional barriers that prevent people from doing what they want to do.
Christine Carter, PhD, Author of The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less and Raising Happiness
Engaging and relevant, Peter Bregman’s Leading with Emotional Courage provides a clear and practical framework to follow when facing emotionally-charged situations. He challenges us to face our fears and stand strong by offering both principles and skills that teach us how to confidently act before being acted upon. A superb read!
Stephen M. R. Covey, The New York Times and # 1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Speed of Trust and coauthor of Smart Trust
Leading without courage is not really leading at all. Bregman presents a compelling argument for the power of embracing difficult emotions.
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work
Leading with Emotional Courage is about putting your whole self into something. About embracing your fears, expressing your passions, showing your vulnerabilities, and engaging fully with others. It’s a book that you do not simply read. Instead, you experience it. It’s full of pathos and compassion, enlightenment and practicality. It’s like conversing with your best friend. You come away feeling refreshed, entertained, and wiser. Peter Bregman is a master storyteller, and he enlivens his sage counsel with scores of personal tales, joyfully told, each containing simple wisdom and hard truths. There are lots of how-to-do books on the market. Leading with Emotional Courage isn’t one of them. It’s a how-to-be book, and I guarantee you that you’ll want to be more like the person Peter describes once you’ve experienced this book. I highly recommend it.
Jim Kouzes, coauthor of the bestselling The Leadership Challenge and the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University
There’s a line between the domineering, overbearing management style of decades past—less effective because it’s tone deaf to people—and an increasingly self-aware and people-oriented leadership style that can be less effective if it’s too wimpy to get the job done. Bregman offers a thoughtful guide to finding and walking that sometimes elusive line. Leading With Emotional Courage offers manageable, bite-sized insights into thought and behavior changes that can help any leader be empathetic enough to honor our shared humanity but still courageous enough to make the tough decisions and initiate the hard conversations essential to a thriving workplace.
Whitney Johnson, Thinkers50 Leading Management Thinker, Critically-acclaimed author of Disrupt Yourself
Peter Bregman gives nuanced advice on how we can navigate the complex landscape of our emotional lifeto become better leaders, (and better human beings), by being more connected to ourselves and others.
Tal Ben-Shahar, Author of The Joy of Leadership
To be effective, leaders must move the heart, starting with their own. Bregman brilliantly highlights the often overlooked, but critical aspect of leadership – the courage to feel. Read this book to tap into the power of emotion and unleash your and your team’s true potential.
Sanyin Siang, Author, The Launch Book; Executive Director, Duke University Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics
Emotional Courage is a wonderful reminder that if you are willing to feel everything you can do anything. The book, laced with Bregman’s own courageous honesty and openness, will help you build your confidence, bring out the best in others, and summon the emotional courage you need to succeed as a leader.
Liz Wiseman, New York Times bestselling author of Multipliers and Rookie Smarts
In Leading with Emotional Courage, Peter Bregman provides us with a novel roadmap for how to embrace, rather than avoid, difficult emotions and, in so doing, live more fulfilling lives. The book is deeply insightful, a pleasure to read, and an indispensable guide for making discomfort and conflict a trusted ally and friend.
Andy Molinsky, Ph.D., Author of Reach and Global Dexterity
Government and Military Leaders
Cowardice, as characterized by excessive self-interest, has become pervasive across our society. Peter Bregman has given us the tools to be emotionally courageous. As leaders we want to have tough conversations that benefit our organizations, and Leading With Emotional Courage shows us the way. Readers will emerge from Leading With Emotional Courage with renewed enthusiasm for the day to day challenges of leading. Peter Bregman’s book promises to free a huge cohort of leaders from the anxieties that get in the way of doing what’s right, instead of what’s easy. Choosing the harder right over the easy wrong is one of the “Holy Grails” of leader development—and in Leading With Emotional Courage, Peter Bregman has captured that prize. Finally, a book to inspire those of us who lead through the conflict inherent to organizations.
Thomas A. Kolditz, PhD, Brigadier General, US Army (ret), Professor Emeritus, US Military Academy, West Point, Director, Ann & John Doerr Institute for New Leaders, Rice University
Leading With Emotional Courage is a great guide for practitioners who want to heighten their ability to influence others effectively. The book clearly identifies four elements associated with exhibiting emotional courage and provides tangible exercises in service of strengthening one’s competence in a given area. I recommend this book to anyone who is committed to becoming a better leader!
Bernie Banks, Brigadier General, US Army (ret), Associate Dean of Leadership Development, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management
Peter has spoken with such candor of the interior conversations we use to magnify or sabotage our leadership moments. It’s like having a workable path, where you are taught to watch yourself and learn to lead. Take this path; you’ll be larger for it.
Charlotte Beers, Former CEO Ogilvy, Former Undersecretary Of State
What a lovely mix of personal and professional anecdotes and straight talk about the importance of taking emotions – yours and your colleagues –into account in the task of leading an organization. As Bregman’s book so eloquently explains, as long as organizations are composed of humans and not robots, the fundamental challenge of corporate leadership is to get a diverse group of highly emotional creatures to work together effectively - which requires that leaders confront, head on, the need of everyone in the organization to have a sense of common purpose and connectedness. As leaders, we need the emotional courage to engage with our colleagues where they live, where the desire for affirmation and the fear of failure are constantly in play. I am grateful to Peter for writing this book.
Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Millstein & Co., Former Chief Restructuring Officer at the U.S. Department of the Treasury
Emotional courage is critical to getting anything important done. And Bregman’s book is the essential primer to developing it. If you lead - or aspire to lead - read this book. The world needs more people with emotional courage.
Mark Sanford, Unites States Congressman