Courageous Leaders Care (good leaders make you feel safe)

“Leaders are the ones who run headfirst into the unknown. They rush toward the danger. They put their own interests aside to protect us or to pull us into the future. Leaders would sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours. And they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs.

This is what it means to be a leader.

It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march beside them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.”  Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last

In the Senior Housing industry, I have had the honor to work with several exceptional leaders who inspire the greatest respect, the highest loyalty and have the ability to weather any storm or challenge with calm and grace. To these leaders, it is clear: when it matters most, and they are willing to ‘eat last,’ they are rewarded with deeply loyal employees, residents, and family members who will stop at nothing to advance their vision and their organization’s interests.  It is amazing how this works.  This is the reason they are willing to push hard and take risks as brave, courageous leaders.

The Circle of Safety that these courageous leaders create is rooted in trust. Simon Sinek explains: ”Only when we feel we are in a Circle of Safety will we pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.”

Over the past 15 years, I have witnessed Senior Housing Leaders who have been faced with difficult challenges with employees, families, operational failures, census, fiscal viability, and more.  I have seen two types of leaders emerge from difficult situations.

  • The first type took all of the responsibility upon themselves, and as the leader set out to ‘fix’ things and to assure consequences if things were not fixed. They blamed the lack of good workers, the poor work ethic, the state regulators, and the complexity of long-term care. As time went on –  frustration, fear, burnout, and ultimate failure.  Good people.  Good intentions.  But no leader can do this alone. We need one another.
  • The second type has a humble spirit, deep empathy and respect for employees;  recognizing that courage is a prerequisite for truly great leadership. At the heart of it lays a willingness to trust and be trusted; to take action amid the uncertainty; to do what is right and proper and good over what is expedient, and to risk failure in the process. Unless leaders are willing to lay their psychological safety (i.e. pride and power) on the line for the sake of those they serve, no amount of brilliance or showmanship will suffice.

Simon Sinek says ‘Good Leaders make you feel safe.” 

When we are ‘just working because we have to work’ and feel like things are falling apart – we need strong leaders to show true courage.

  • The kind of courage that discerns real from imaginary drama,
  • The kind that inspires people to rally together toward a noble cause, and acknowledge what’s not working.
  • The kind that doesn’t rely on fear to motivate action.
  • The kind that emboldens fresh thinking and draws on the full breadth of talent and know-how of the team.

Below are the characteristics I have been honored to witness in courageous Senior Housing Leaders:

  • Courageous leaders personal characteristics of humility and capacity for great empathy.  Great leaders focus on the good of those in their care, which leads to stable, flexible, confident teams, where everyone feels they belong, and all energies are devoted to supporting one another.
  • Courageous leaders are bold visionaries.  While they may have to manage in the realm of probabilities – they lead from the space of possibilities.
  • Courageous Leaders seek out Dissenters.  They don’t surround themselves with ‘yes men’ (or women) who will confirm their thinking and stroke their ego.  Rather they seek out people whose opinions and mindsets will challenge and broaden their own. They actively listen and create the psychological safety needed for those with less power to disagree with them and speak candidly.
  • Courageous Leaders don’t shy from difficult conversations.  They are fully aware that the conversations that DON’T occur are those which can exact the steepest toll on outcomes.
  • Courageous leaders make bold calls.  They know that waiting until they have absolute certainty that they can avoid all risks can sometimes require waiting too long.  They do their homework, do investigations, and then make the best judgment call they can.  AND when they make a ‘miss-step,’ they own it fast and adjust course quickly.
  • Courageous leaders entrust others. As research has found, people generally rise to the level of expectation placed on them.  Treat them as untrustworthy and needing constant oversight and that’s what you’ll get.  Treat them as capable people with the ability to learn and excel, and that’s what you’ll also get.   Expect a lot, and you’ll get it.  Expect little and you will get that too.
  • Courageous leaders embolden others. When leaders focus on the consequences of failure, it creates fear.   Brave leaders actively work to create a culture of courage where people are encouraged to speak up, challenge old thinking, experiment with new ideas, risk mistakes, prioritize growth and contribution.   And then…when things don’t go as planned…they celebrate the shared learning so the team can ‘fail forward’ together.

I believe that everyone has the ability to be a courageous leader.  There is no shortcut to building the courage needed to be an inspiring and influential leader.   I witnessed the leaders I worked with grow into courageous leaders bit-by-bit, starting with the next decision they had to face as they rallied their teams around them.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see the growth and power of each of them – guided clearly by goodness, loyalty, faith, and fun.

If you have 15 minutes to watch a Ted Talk by Simon Sinek entitled “Why Good Leaders make you feel safe”, below is the link.



Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada