Letters from a Mentor – Have Courage

Following an invitation, Mark Freier wrote a letter to a “young executive” regarding the importance of courage in the fast-paced world of executives:


My Young Friend,

You’ve made it through your teenage years. That is a feat!

You’ve decided on a career as an executive. That took guts!

What you do next will take courage.

By that, I don’t mean being brave or trying to accomplish something heroic. There are too many war stories of executives, young and old alike who have left a wake of destruction in their professional and personal careers by trying to be or do something in the name of “making an impact” or being noticed.

What I mean by courage harkens back to the origin of the word from Latin: COURAGE [cor] – heart – “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Dr Brené Brown reiterates that courage is the choice “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” The best gift you will give to yourself and others is to courageously live from your heart, your whole heart.

I know that college was about what you could produce from your mind. I know that in your career you will be measured by the power of your mind. I am not negating the role of your brain. What I am saying is that you must make the choice to live, work, and relate to others from your whole heart. Notice the differentiation. It’s not just from your heart. Because your heart, my heart, is damaged, broken and frail. Rather, as Dr. Brown states, it’s living from your whole heart. “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”

That may seem painfully obvious at best, or at worst, trite. But most people I meet in business and in life try to prove they are enough or they have what it takes. That is the drive you will encounter in the business world, whether it’s in profit or non-profit. I know because I was one of those people. They (me) will wear a mask to make it seem they have it all together. They (me) develop elaborate mechanisms to posture so that you see someone who is put together. They (me) will hope you don’t ever find out that they are human, frail or broken. They (me) will avoid vulnerability and therefore, make it difficult to trust.

We live that way because we don’t know our story. That means that we don’t know the truth of WHO we are, WHERE we came from and WHAT we are up against.

I know that I didn’t have the courage or tenacity to look deep within. I focused on the 10% of the iceberg that was above the waterline and avoided the 90% of what is in the depths of my being. I just kept striving, hoping that with each accomplishment it would be enough to show people that I was good. How empty it was!

I remember reading these words from Dee Hock, “The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage (or lead) is to manage self…It is a complex unending incredibly difficult, oft-shunned task. Without management of self, no one is fit for authority no matter how much they acquire, for the more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become.” (Chaordic Leadership)

As a young person (husband, father, friend, leader) I had no idea how to approach self-management. Now, as someone at this stage of my life, who spends time coaching and mentoring others, I confidently share with you that your courageous journey to self-awareness and self-management is the best gift you will give yourself and others.

I didn’t do that for two decades. I made decisions that were driven by my EGO and self-protection. I know what it means to try to get from other people what they cannot give you: validation. I know the impact of spending a lifetime of motivating people to see things my way and not having the insight to know that they saw through me and the selfishness of my motivations. I know what it’s like to be so wounded and not have the courage to face it, and by not facing it inflicting my woundedness on others, mostly subconsciously. I know what it means to have to come to “the end of my rope” and know that my only choice was to surrender and learn to change from the inside-out.

I had to learn about being a transformational person so that I could eventually be a transformational leader. Transformational Leadership is based on two fundamental principles: self-awareness and self-management. If you accept that change happens from the inside-out you will ruthlessly choose to pay attention to your interior world and by doing so, it will impact your exterior world.


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