Have Courage and Be Kind: Being a Leader in Your Own Life


One of the most valuable things we can learn in life is the importance of being true to yourself and having the courage to represent yourself well. It’s important to know that you’re a kind person, but also that you won’t be walked over when somebody is trying to persuade you to be other than kind and principled. There are times when others will, in their pursuit of knowledge and success, try to walk over you. Learning to be a leader of your own life will help you with confidence, strength and when combined with courage and kindness, will help you be an example and lead others into a healthier way to face conflict. 

This post was written by Dr. Stephanie A. Bosco-Ruggiero (PhD in Social Work from Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service) and Jessica Russell (freelance writer) on behalf of Dr. Dave Maslach for the R3ciprocity project (check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and researchers by providing an authentic look into PhD and academic life, and how to be a successful researcher. For over four years the project has been offering advice, community, and encouragement to students and researchers around the world.

We all have goals, and academics become a large part of the path to the goals we set for ourselves. It is important to keep in mind that one of the best lessons we can learn is that in the end, life is not about the things that we actually study; it is often about learning how to actually love who you are and how to show the courage to demonstrate that you are okay with who you are, what you believe, and what you bring to the table. This post is based on Dave’s message for all of us on this topic, with a bit of extra perspective thrown in based on our own experiences with kindness, courage, and leadership. 

Life lessons, good and bad

Life brings with it a set of experiences unique to each of us as individuals. These experiences can influence who we are and our outlook on our goals, work, and how we view the people around us. A great example of someone who has courage and leads with kindness is Dave, the creator of r3ciprocity.com which is a peer review and editing site he created to help students and writers pay it forward. 

Dave has had an extensive academic career. He studied business, engineering, sociology, and economics, and spent a lot of time in research as well. His focus is business, and while many people assume that in business you study topics surrounding money and performance, much of it is based in psychology and sociology. And although it would be understandable to assume that this background would give you insight into how organizations work and how people function, instead, you learn there are many different theories about how organizations actually work. 

Dave has observed there are a few things that are true of every person and organization. 

In his vlog on this topic, Dave explained that, “a lot of this stuff that we learn and that we research really can be boiled down into yourself and in loving who you are inside, while at the same time having the courage to keep going forward.” It takes a long time to come to that realization though. 

In the vlog, Dave observed that we spend a lot of time before that realization being uncertain and feeling really ambiguous about who we are on the inside. We tend to bumble around and try to figure out who we are and hope that by the time we are 85 years old maybe we will figure it out. But what is more certain and can really help us along the way, according to Dave, is learning that the key thing in interacting with people and organizations in this world is to remember that everyone else is bumbling along too. 

He aptly observes that it’s important to be very kind to other people because you don’t know what is going on in their lives. And even though this can be difficult, especially when your life is going badly and things aren’t going your way, if you practice kindness and pay it forward when life IS good, then this becomes second nature even during the hard times. 

How believing in yourself can help you cope with conflict

We all have had the experience of being in conflict with coworkers, friends, or family members and starting to lose confidence in ourselves. We doubt that the path we are on is right, or that our perspective is valid; but when you believe in yourself you can more easily take the perspective of another. (Check out this post on believing in yourself!)

During conflict, what you can do is take a deep breath and go outside of your perspective to try to see how another may view a particular situation. Instead of blaming yourself or others for conflict, or worse, taking it out on yourself or others, try to see the big picture. We all know it’s not a very healthy perspective to place blame or take our own insecurities out on other people. Take a step back during times of conflict, remember to stick to your convictions, and try (although it’s not always easy) to be kind even in the face of personal attacks or a failure by others to try to understand your point of view. 

Anxiety and uncertainty are emotions we all feel, and to try to deal with that with aggression will never effectively solve a conflict. You will realize that when you stick to your inner knowledge and trust, even in conflict with others, that conflict will more readily resolve. Why? Because people realize you have a place and perspective from which you are operating and they must respect that as you must respect their position and perspective.  

Even when you’re feeling taken advantage of it’s important to remember who you are. You may want to lash out and adamantly defend yourself, but if you have trust in your inner self and your experience, and let kindness remain at the center of how you approach life and others, you will get through relatively unscathed. Do not fall into the trap of being unkind, spiteful, or aggressive like those you might encounter; rely on that inner compass to keep you on the path of kindness and compassion.

The life of a doctoral student or academic can be contentious at times. You may feel like people are trying to cut you down. There can be conflict and you will feel angry. Read this blog post about self care, which is something that can also help keep you on the straight and narrow path of kindness (you can’t be kind to others if you can’t be kind to yourself).

You might also be interested in reading this post about how to deal with negative feedback as a doctoral student. Negative feedback can sometimes feel like an attack, or unfair, but you have to keep your calm and take a step back. What is the other person’s point of view, and if you think their critique is unfair, is there anything you can take from it that will make you a better student? If you want to lash out, remember to stick to your core principles and have the courage to listen and learn from the experience, no matter how negative it may have been. 

Lead with courage and kindness and you’ll be leading by example

In the vlog below, Dave discussed the challenges leaders have when people around them fail to understand where you are going and exhibit fear reactions because of this. If you remain kind and have courage, it will be easier to rise into leadership, but there will be major challenges. It It can even be very lonely, as they say, at the top. Leaders with conviction can be especially lonely. Sometimes leaders have to remind themselves to keep moving forward and believe in themselves and their journey.

Leading with kindness and confidence will make it easier to deal with conflict as well. As a kind and empathetic leader you are open to reaching a middle ground while not losing your sense of self and your moral compass. Along the way it will take a bit of courage to do that but you do it anyway. One year, five, or even ten years down the road you will look back on your leadership and realize you made the right decision to put anger and aggression aside. Instead you learned to be kind to yourself and others and in doing so gained confidence in your interpersonal relationships. 

Here are some other vlogs where Dave talks about courage and not being fooled by others:

Learning who you are and leading by example

Eventually learning all this allows you to trust yourself and your intuition. It removes most of the fear and trepidation and permits a life where you’re open to more, you share more, and begin to lead your own life with courage and kindness. By doing so you lead others to opening up as well. Being a good person who practices kindness, and learning you are a person who has gained confidence and strength, will always help you to keep going through the low points in life. It also provides you with the means to help carry the burdens other people in your life and who you work with can’t hold as easily. When you’ve spent time learning about who you want to be and realize who you’ve become, you find that all that time being kind to yourself, having the courage to stand up for your beliefs and principles, becoming more and more confident, kind of spreads like wildfire to the people around you who learn by example. 

Climbing the ladder and bringing others with you

The answer is yes and no. We all have goals we want to reach. In academia what we do every day is based on goals. And it’s very important to stay mindful of reaching those goals as you go along the path you’ve set out for yourself. In this aspect it is expected. But you will lose focus and fall away from your path when you fail to care about those around you; instead you may lead with aggression and a single-mindedness that discards those around you as unimportant or obstacles to run over on your way. That is no way to lead your own life. Not in the long run. 

When you think about becoming confident and showing that you are, it is not shown by leaving destruction in your wake. It’s being able to know your strengths and gaining the ability to relate and share that confidence. And it’s definitely not kind to treat others with a lack of consideration, nor is it really being kind to yourself either. Because if you do this, at the end of the path, when you reach your goals, you’ll be standing there, alone, with your accomplishments. And although you have reached your goal, what you have also done is alienate an entire network of people that could have been allies and friends and co-workers in the next steps of your journey. 

Kindness and courage is contagious

Being kind is not a weakness. Having the courage to be kind is a strength. It shows those around you and yourself that you can consider how your actions affect others. It shows you have chosen  a path where you walk together with those who are facing the same struggles you face. It’s leaning on those around you when you need help, and helping others when you are able. Having courage also means standing up to those who have not yet learned what you already know. It’s holding firm under pressure from those who want to trample you on the way to their goals. 

And even though it may be hard to face aggression and disregard from others, those who lead their life with kindness and courage have an entire community of people who will often stand with them. That is the secret to practicing kindness and courage. It is contagious to those who recognize that in others and it brings people together in ways that a bull in a china shop can’t possibly realize until it’s too late. Kindness breeds kindness, and the flow from kindness to courage to confidence is a gift we all want to share with those who want to lead their own lives in much the same way. 

The bottom line

Know yourself, let your inner moral compass guide you, lead with compassion and courage, and be kind to yourself and others. If you practice some of these simple ways of being, you will notice that things have a way of working themselves out. Conflict will tend to work its way out of your life, because conflict feeds on people without a strong core and who are willing and able to throw others under the bus. As Dave said, you learn a lot as an academic, but you also learn a lot as person simply going through life. These are some of the core principles you learn about people and organizations, simply by living life and observing what works and what doesn’t. Theory is great, but keep your eyes open as you move through life and observe the patterns that seem to hold, time and again. 

If you enjoyed this post, check out these other posts at https://blog.r3ciprocity.com:

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