Courageous Leadership in an Unlikely Place

Maria (not her real name) was a 13-year-old mother with a baby who was fathered by her step-dad — through no choice of her own. A friend of a friend helped her find a safe place away from her step-dad: a group home for young mothers.

This is where my son and I heard her story of courage on a recent trip to Honduras.

With the help of the couple who ran the group home and the “tias” who worked there, Maria was getting the love, support and safety she needed to heal from the trauma she had experienced and to begin to trust again. Miraculously, Maria was able to see her child as a gift to be prized and cared for instead of a reminder of the horrible trauma she had experienced. And in the community of other young mothers who had experienced similar challenges, she found friends and belonging:  she was not alone.

Unfortunately, her two younger sisters were still at home. And Maria’s step-dad was still in the home because she had been too scared initially to testify against him to the authorities. Maria’s mom had told her not to say anything and was unwilling to kick him out of the house because she was financially dependent on him.

So when a psychologist who had been helping Maria recover asked her again if she would testify against her step-dad – not just for herself but for the sake of her sisters – she initially shrunk back into her seat, visibly recoiling at the thought of standing up to this man.

But despite her very real fear and despite her “powerless” stature in her family and in her culture, Maria chose to testify.

How was she able to make such a brave choice?

I believe four things helped Maria demonstrate courageous leadership:

  1. She saw a reason bigger than her own self-interests. People she deeply cared about were in danger, and she could help.
  2. She had supportive friends and mentors:  people who accepted her, affirmed her, and stood with her.
  3. She was encouraged and challenged to do the right thing, the courageous thing, by people she trusted and respected.
  4. The love and strength she had received and the vision to help others inspired faith and hope that standing up with courage was better than cowering in fear.

Thankfully, most of us have not experienced the trauma that Maria went through. And the choices we face may not be as serious as hers. But we all have choices to stand up and live courageously or to shrink back in fear.

What opportunity(s) do you face to live and lead courageously? And who will you benefit if you do?

Joe Baker is a Partner and Executive Coach with PeopleResults.  You can reach him at or on twitter @JoeBakerJr.  Sign up to receive his and his colleagues’ blog at Current.