Are you Being Brave or Just Acting with Bravado?

May 16, 2020

being braveAre you acting with bravado or being brave?

While the words start with the same 4 letters, there is a world of difference between bravery and bravado. We read in the book of John about Simon Peter, who when Jesus was arrested in the garden attempted a bit of bravado in drawing his dagger and cutting the ear of one of the soldiers. It was a bold move to maybe impress Jesus, who had previously predicted Simon Peter would deny him three times, and that he would try to stop the arrest by force. Jesus of course stopped him from pursuing this further and later, as he had predicted, Simon Peter would deny him three times and choose the easier path, one not of bravery. The brave thing for him to do would be to acknowledge Jesus and being a disciple, when Jesus was not around to impress but instead, he let fear take control.

This can be extended easily into the work world as well, maybe manufacturing for example. If you have ever been around a site leader or plant manager for example who was the loudest in the room and sought to “carry the biggest stick” and led in a manner that exhibited bravado, then you know what I am saying. Yet that same “leader” does not lead upwards effectively, and instead when in the presence of more senior leaders, is less vocal and maybe does not stick up for himself or his people, especially when things go wrong. He is not being courageous or brave when it counts. Accountability takes bravery, and therefore it is a key attribute of strong leadership. Or maybe even worse, he is displaying the same degree of bravado when it comes to “showing off” for senior leadership when it is convenient but picking and choosing spots to do it. Cursory example but hopefully it paints a more current picture of what bravado versus bravery when it comes to leadership.

Bravado is essentially “showing off” or trying to impress others with you actions or words. You might have heard it referred to as being a “tough guy”. Bravado is acting out what you want people to see. Bravery on the other hand is essentially being courageous, even in the face of struggles, danger, and fear, despite who is or is not around to see it. Similar words, but a world of difference.

Think about your leadership style, whether at home or in the workplace? What shadow are you casting for others? Is it one of bravado and a sort of cowboy, tough guy culture or one of a quiet calmness of bravery that others can emulate? My friends, if it is one of bravado, please recalibrate. Bravado is cotton candy while bravery is premium steak, and no need to answer which you would prefer for a good dinner. Bravado is all show and no go, whereas bravery is the opposite. Bravery is less about the show or words, and more about the presence and action. It is not about who or how to impress but more of facing fear or challenges head on and being effective in doing so.

It should be clear what is needed, and bravery can be a pillar of courageous leadership. In our recent studies of overcoming obstacles and dealing with adversity, we have talked about facing fear and being confident in doing so. To do, you need bravery and not the all bark and no bite of bravado. Choose to be a lion and not a sheep. Back up your words with a quiet confidence and your actions with bravery. Don't be Johnny Bravado. 

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