Redefining What It Means to Be Brave

Man Walking on Hot Coals

The way we traditionally define what it means to be brave can be our greatest obstacle. Simply shifting our focus can be the gateway to powerful results.

Today’s post is by Kimberly Davis, author of Brave Leadership (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

Have you ever wondered why, when you think of needing to be brave – like when you need to have a difficult conversation that you don’t want to have, or give a big presentation, or meet with the C-Suite, or start something new, or put yourself out there in a new way – why just thinking about being brave seems to have the opposite effect? You get that queasiness in your stomach, your breathing might grow shallow, your muscles tighten. Why is it, when you most need to rally yourself, that you find you’re feeling more tense than ever?

“I don’t get it,” one senior executive said to me as we were talking about her upcoming presentation. “I speak all the time. I know my stuff. I’m a pretty confident woman. So why do I feel like I want to throw up just thinking about having to give this talk?”

And it’s no wonder. If you look at how we traditionally define what it means to be brave – ready to face and endure danger or pain – it’s not something most of us get terribly excited about. But the bigger question is, does it serve us? I would argue no.

Because our focus triggers our feelings, which triggers our behavior.

And really, is this definition sufficient? We tend to think of “brave” as an admirable quality. We aspire to be brave. And yet how many people can you think of who seem to have no problem with being “ready to face danger and pain” yet their behavior is anything but admirable? I can think of many times in my life when I’ve jumped into the fray. I’ve said what needed to be said (damn the torpedoes!), but it hasn’t always been a reflection of my best and highest self. Perhaps it’s time for a definition that will better set us up for success.

The way I’ve come to define brave is: To be and bring your best, most authentic, and powerful self. For isn’t this the greatest challenge we face? But what does that really mean?

What does your “best self” look like? When I think about being my best self, I’m bold. I’m articulate. I take initiative. I’m passionate. I’m engaged, excited, and full of energy. When I’m being my best self I’m also kind, considerate of other people, thoughtful, helpful, hopeful. My best self isn’t jealous or snarky. My best self knows that life isn’t a zero-sum game. My best self doesn’t wallow or play the victim. My best self is better than that. When I’m being my best self I feel fully alive and optimistic. My best self knows that her actions can have an impact and focuses on making a difference. She is responsible and flexible. My best self knows how to play the long game – to not give up when things get hard, to pick herself up and get back on the field. Does she show up all the time? Oh my no! But she is who I aspire to be.

If you were to be your best self, what would that look like? What would that feel like? Who do you aspire to be?

When we talk about “authenticity” it’s easy to get confused. The word is bandied about so often these days in social media that you can’t go five minutes without seeing a meme or a quote that says something like, “Be yourself! Who cares what anyone else thinks!” And yet, from a leadership and influence perspective, that’s not going to work.

My favorite definition of authenticity is borrowed from Harvard Business School of Management’s Bill George: genuine, worthy of trust, reliance and belief in the eye of the beholder – a powerful definition and much more complex than you might initially think. For what your boss is going to need from you, to experience you as worthy of trust is going to be quite different from what your client might need from you, or your colleague might need from you. And this doesn’t mean that you become a chameleon, what it means is that you need a sincere respect for the fact that everyone you meet has a different set of needs and if you want to connect to them, you have to find a way to meet those needs or they won’t experience you as authentic. True authenticity forces empathy.

Your best, most authentic and powerful self – powerful – what a loaded word that can be! So often when I ask people I teach what “powerful” means to them, they shrink back, not wanting to be anything like the people in power they know. But power isn’t necessarily about position or title. True power is your intrinsic ability to connect and influence, regardless of your job title or where you reside on the corporate ladder. It is rooted in self-efficacy and belief. It’s knowing that you can count on yourself – to physically, emotionally and mentally be so self-aware that you can choose your actions and how you show up, rather than simply reacting to the world around you. It’s not power that someone can give to you, it’s power that you grow and own within yourself.

Our focus determines our reality. If we focus on the pain and danger, then that’s what we’ll experience. But if, instead, we shift our aim to being and bringing our best, most authentic and powerful self, we have an opportunity to not only be the person we aspire to be, but also have the impact that we’re capable of having. Some might call that great results.

I call it brave.

Brave LeadershipAn expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly Davis shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership.” She is the author of Brave Leadership: Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need (CLICK HERE to get your copy). For more information, please visit

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