The Lesson of Neil Armstrong: Anyone Can Find the Quiet Courage to Lead

If I were to ask people how to describe you, would “courageous” show up in the list?

It seems we tend to associate that word with situations of life and death – war, saving someone from a burning building, stepping in the line of gun fire to save another, performing CPR on someone who’s heart has stopped. In last month’s news of Neil Armstrong’s death, we were reminded of the hero he was and the type of courage he possessed.

It got me thinking about courage, in general.

The quality of courage

Neil Armstrong took two trips into space. OK, let’s start there — he went into space! These days we take that so lightly, but think about it for a minute. That decision alone, launching into space, takes a ton of courage – would you do it?

Armstrong’s first journey was in 1966 as commander of the Gemini 8 mission, which nearly ended in disaster.He kept his cool and brought the spacecraft home safely after a thruster rocket malfunctioned and caused it to spin wildly out of control. His second trip into space may have appeared to be smooth sailing, but it wasn’t.

In July 1969, Armstrong and fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins blasted off in Apollo 11 on a nearly 250,000-mile journey which took four days to reach the moon. Again, Neil Armstrong demonstrated nerves of steel as he over-rode the autopilot to land on the moon because it was heading for an unstable landing surface. With 17 seconds left of fuel, he made a safe landing and the rest, as they say, is history. He then became the first man to walk on the moon.

Courage is defined as the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., with bravery. While most of us are not faced with life and death situations in our daily lives, we are often faced with difficulty in work and personal situations, and pain, whether it be physical or emotional.

Neil Armstrong was often described as having quiet courage throughout his life, proving that you don’t even have to be in a leadership role to demonstrate courage. There are many people out there who show courage in daily decisions and actions. Are you one of them?

6 ways courage may show up

Here are some ways in which your courage may show up:

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  • Making an unpopular/politically risky decision because it’s the RIGHT thing to do — for the business or for an individual. Maybe it’s a product recall or going to bat for an employee who is battling the benefits department/insurance company for a sick family member.
  • Trying a new technology or unique approach in communicating within the organization or building capability and trying something new that could take the business to the next level.
  • Supporting and encouraging an employee who you believe has the capability to grow into the next position yet lacks personal confidenc — putting your reputation on the line for another.
  • Going after that marquee client, when you don’t have an “in” based on a personal relationship. Putting yourself out there on a big stage. No guts, no glory, right?
  • Doing something you have never tried – writing a book, volunteering to speak publicly on a topic you’re passionate about, going skydiving, or running a marathon … you get the idea.
  • Admitting when you’ve made a mistake or taking the heat for someone on your team whose screwed up. Taking time to reflect on lessons learned and openly share them with others.

When we live and work “under the radar” and stay in our “comfort zone,” we miss out on so many opportunities to learn, share and grow. It takes courage to try new things and venture out into the great unknown, but so worth it!

Carpe Diem!

I leave you with this quote, which I hope inspires you to get out there and make your mark on the world:

“I believe that the Good Lord gave us a finite number of heartbeats and I’m damned if I’m going to use up mine running up and down a street.” – Neil Armstrong

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

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10 Comments on “The Lesson of Neil Armstrong: Anyone Can Find the Quiet Courage to Lead

  1. Love the blog and the quote.  Courage is such a key leadership characteristic and sadly, one that doesn’t get the same air play in the media as all the nefarious leadership actions that are splashed across the headlines daily.  Kudos to you Martha for taking the time to celebrate it!

  2. Great post Martha – it’s so easy to forget how much personal courage it takes to be a great leader. It’s an oft-overlooked trait that is so critical to success and Armstrong embodied it so well.

  3. True!  You never know when your strength and courage will be tested.  It’s often the every day little choices and actions made with courage that make a difference (as you said – defending a collegue or making a difficult or unpopular decision).

  4. Also, Neil Armstrong is a great example of leadership & courage that is based on his actions and decisions – not what he said. Great reminders, Martha!

  5. Wait, who is Neil Armstrong? Just kidding. In my lifetime, there have never NOT been footprints on the moon, but this post is an excellent reminder that for everything we take for granted, someone had to have the courage to pave the way.

  6. Apparently Armstrong would tell really bad jokes about the moon and then deliver the punch line “I guess you had to be there…” #Brilliant

  7. For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.” – Statement released by Neil’s family after his death.
    Read more on 5 lessons from Neil Armstrong’s life 
    http://www.humanresourcesblog.in/2012/08/26/neil-armstrong-5-lessons-from-his-life/ 

    Jappreet Sethi

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