Leadership Spotlight

Courage Can Be Found in the Strangest Places

A stock image of male looking out towards the water.

“The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well.”1

—Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Courage is most frequently defined as “the ability to do something that frightens one.”2 When we think of courage, we think of outward acts that show the world bravery and integrity. These types of acts of courage might include law enforcement officers running toward the gunshots of an active shooter situation, sergeants protecting their squad from an irate community member, or chiefs representing their department to the media during a critical incident when the community is in turmoil.

The traditional idea of courage often does not include a look inside ourselves. Yet, courage also can mean “strength in the face of pain or grief.”3 It is looking inward and digging deep to overcome such personal challenges as pain, grief, loss, or lack of self-confidence. True courage is learning to look inside ourselves, assessing ourselves, and being kind to ourselves in ways that allow us to grow and live a fuller, more meaningful life. It takes even more courage to do this in a law enforcement organization. This type of courage requires soul-searching and potential exposure of vulnerabilities. And, no one—especially law enforcement—wants to feel vulnerable.

Vulnerability is not a popular word or concept, and it is not usually equated with courage in today’s law enforcement organizations. It is a “necessary evil” that we must embrace on the road to discovering the courage that lies within us all. The only way to become the best we can become involves this often-painful look inside ourselves. Understanding ourselves is a daunting task and, honestly, often is scary. It is much easier to bury it all deep inside and just keep moving forward, never really experiencing the pain and grief, never really examining the internal struggles associated with our lives and chosen professions.

Many good leaders achieve a level of success that is not as great as it could be. Those considered great leaders have traveled a journey of self-exploration, which has led the way to a life of success or fulfillment both professionally and personally. Learning to look within and expose weaknesses, pain, struggles, and vulnerabilities takes an immense amount of courage. Taking those steps, embracing what we see, and loving ourselves despite what we see can only make us better. The courage to do so requires a level of kindness and openness toward ourselves that is often difficult yet rewarding. More important, such courage is required to achieve the level of greatness you have locked away inside yourself.

So, what are you waiting for? It is time to search within yourself and find that courage required to be a great partner, friend, coworker, leader, and more.

Marian Elizabeth “Beth” Coleman, an instructor in the Leadership Programs Instruction Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. She can be reached at mecoleman@fbi.gov.


1 Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families (Great Britain: Tavistock Publications, 1970), accessed October 22, 2019, https://www.psicoterapia-palermo.it/PDFS/On%20Death%20and%20Dying_Kubler%20Ross%20Elizabeth.pdf.
2 Oxford Dictionary, s.v. “courage,” accessed November 4, 2019, lexico.com/en/definition/courage.
3 Ibid.