The Reluctant Leader: 20 Seconds of Embarrassing Bravery


“Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and I promise you, something great will come of it.” (from the movie “We Bought a Zoo”)

Bravery is a doing word, a deliberate act. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bravery as:  the quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty; the quality or state of being brave. And if you think about it, you really only need 20 seconds of bravery to initiate something, whatever that is, and the rest unfolds as it will. It may take courage to keep going through it, but the bravery it takes to START the process is what’s most important.

I fully and firmly believe the above quote is a rule to live by. I didn’t always think like this though, and I haven’t always done it myself. It’s taken a long time, a hell of a lot of soul searching, some very, very difficult conversations, some appalling feedback and a great book by Susan Scott called “Fierce Leadership” to make me realise that life is too short to not have those ’20 seconds of bravery’ moments. The consequences of me not being brave have had long-lasting negative effects on some of my relationships, I’ve (unintentionally) damaged other people and could have damaged my reputation and company – these situations could have been avoided had I been brave for 20 seconds and told the truth about what I was really thinking. But I wasn’t brave and I let things progress when my gut was screaming to tell the truth, thus avoiding how uncomfortable and bad it would make everyone feel. So I have learned the hard way.

Like every other creature on earth, I avoid pain as much as possible and sometimes it’s too hard to be brave and just say or do what needs to be said or done. You KNOW you need to deal with this thing (we’ll call it ‘The Issue’). You just don’t want the hurt/pain/uncertainty/trouble/pressure/unpleasantness/potential humiliation that dealing with ‘The Issue’ will bring. And sometimes you get angry with yourself for not taking that opportunity to say/do when you could have.

We all have at least one ‘The Issue’ that takes a lot of head and heart space when we really need the energy for other things. Sometimes we just sit there with ‘The Issue’ taking up most of our thoughts and time. It forces it’s way into the front of our mind unwanted and unbidden when we’re in the middle of something else. It catches us unaware when we’re enjoying something completely unrelated. It slips in to our conversations more and more often… or (being introverted) it just festers in brooding silence without being acknowledged and threatens to overwhelm. And it’s consuming. It drains the energy. It centres around ‘if only I……’. Somehow the uncertainty of not knowing is easier to deal with than the ‘knowing’, even when it’s eating us alive. As humans, we can put up with a lot if it’s easier to bear than an uncertain future. Better the devil you know…..

So I’d like you to take a moment to think about your ‘The Issue’. ‘The Issue’ that keeps you awake at night. The thing you want to change the most in your life that is actually within your control to change. Got it? OK – so when you think about your ‘The Issue’, ask yourself this question: can ‘The Issue’ be solved (or start to be solved) by 20 seconds of insane/embarrassing bravery? What does that look like? What is the best thing that can happen? What is the worst thing that can happen? I’m not talking about instantly resolving the whole thing (things are complex, I get it). I’m just talking about STARTING to resolve it. The first step.

I liken it to ripping off a bandaid. No one wants to rip off a bandaid, it’s painful. You can sit and look at the bandaid and think about it how painful it’s going to be. You’ve ripped off bandaids before and you know, from experience, it’s going to be painful to remove.

But the thing is, it’s a momentary pain and then it’s gone (it may be replaced by the pain of the wound, but the bandaid itself is long gone and the pain of the ripping it off, forgotten). Sometimes we just pick at the edge a little bit, and then peel a little more and we prolong the painful moment… bit by bit we lift and tentatively pull and pick and the skin comes up and we wince and carry on picking or leave it a while or hope it falls off by itself.

So my question is “Why not just rip the thing off and be done with it? Why are you prolonging this???”

For example, it takes 20 seconds to:

…. ask for that promotion

.… do something you’ve never done before

…. walk over to him/her and start that conversation

…. tell them their behaviour is unacceptable

…. put your hand up for that difficult assignment that no-one wants but you’re pretty sure you can do it

….ask that question that you really don’t want to know the answer to but it’s eating you alive not knowing

.… ask if she/he is really happy in your relationship

…. tell someone you love them

…. tell someone you don’t love them anymore

…. say yes

…. say no

…. ask for that feedback when you know you did a bad job

…. start that business venture you’ve been dreaming of for years

…. ask that person ‘what’s wrong?’

…. tell someone what’s been bothering you

…. ask someone what’s bothering them

…. ask ‘how can I help you?’

…. ask for help

Of course, there is always risk. If your issue involves another person, even if you’re brave, the other party may not be as brave, and that’s a risk. It may be something you don’t want to hear or it confirms your worst fears…. but at least now you know. Your new business might fail. That’s a risk. He or she may say yes to your invite. Also risky, your heart could be on the line but at least now, now you’re armed with truth. Instead of guessing and wondering, address it to get some clarity, to move forward, to end it, to start to end it, to begin it – whatever it is that you’re avoiding for whatever reason.

So what happens if you DON’T take that 20 seconds of bravery?

Then you live like you have been with ‘The Issue’ pressing on you in every aspect of your life like a horrible disease you can’t shake. It is there in the background, in the foreground, all around you, sucking the energy from your life and things that matter. I have been there. I know what this feels like.

If you don’t take the 20 seconds…. you must know that nothing will change. That if you do nothing, you stay exactly as you are in the situation that you’re in.

If you don’t take the 20 seconds, then perhaps the other party (if there is another party) does something first and then ‘The Issue’ may not go where you want it because you didn’t act first. Let’s be honest – sometimes it’s easier that way…. to leave it and leave it and hope that someone else does something to change the situation. I don’t know about you, but that approach has not served me well.

And that’s generally how avoidance goes. ‘The Issue’ may resolve itself eventually. But don’t you want to have some say or control in how its resolved? Do you want that promotion to go to someone else and you just stay where you are doing work that is beneath your skills? Do you want that person to fall in love with someone else? Do you want to continue living the lie with the person you don’t love anymore till resentment and bitterness swallow you and turns you into someone you never wanted to be? Wouldn’t you like to resolve ‘The Issue’ on your terms? What life do you want?

Because if you don’t take the 20 seconds then you need to think about what it’s going to be like being you  for the next 10 years in the same situation – maybe you’re bitter, perhaps have less opportunities, possibly angrier, definitely older … most probably regretful because you didn’t take that chance to change your future when you could. You could have saved yourself years.

I’ve often said to people ‘If there was a magic pill and you took it right now and tomorrow you woke up and you were living your perfect life…. what would that look like?”. And they think about it for a moment and more often that not ‘The Issue’ has been resolved (favourably) and it’s not consuming them anymore and they’re living their ‘happily ever after’ because it’s done.

And then I ask ‘how did you resolve it, what did you do?’. And there’s your answer.

And it always starts with 20 seconds of bravery.

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The Reluctant Leader: 20 Seconds of Embarrassing Bravery


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