The three characteristics of a Courageous Leader

Written by: Aaron Fernandez, Communic18 Co-Design Team Member, Young Scot

Published: 06/02/2018

Colourful hands

Communic18 member Aaron Fernandez shares his thoughts on the Academy Courageous Leadership event and what makes a courageous leader.

Aaron Fernandez enjoys volunteering and has taken on multiple volunteering projects since he was 16 years old. He is now a member of Communic18 – the co-design team for Scottish Government’s Year of Young People 2018 (YOYP2018). Aaron also attended the Academy’s Unleashing Courageous Leadership at Every Age event, and shares his thoughts below on what courageous leadership means to him.

Attending the Academy’s ‘Unleashing Courageous Leadership at Every Age’ event was a truly incredible experience where speakers spoke about what courageous leadership meant to them. I also attended to support my fellow Communic18 member, Rachael McCully, who so eloquently elaborated on how young people today have the traits of being a leader and it’s high time that we all recognised this. She spoke about how collaboration between generations is something she hopes to highlight for the Year of Young People 2018. Following this, we took part in a ‘fishbowl’ activity where the attendees were offered the opportunity to talk about their own ideas about courageous leadership. These discussions gave me a lot to think about on identifying courageous leaders in the workplace and how I could develop my own leadership potential to become a positive example for others.

Describing my idea of a Courageous Leader is a complex task because there is no one definitive characteristic for a leader that everyone can agree on – talk to anyone and you’ll find different opinions. The meaning of courage can also be taken from many different angles. However, I’ve come up with 3 characteristics that I believe belong to a ‘Courageous Leader’ and how I have arrived at each conclusion

  1. Empowering people…who are different from you

Learning to overcome prejudices that we grew up with, appreciating our differences and taking them into consideration when working with people is a characteristic of a courageous leader.

In 2016, I was very fortunate to have been accepted into the CommonPurpose 33Sixty Leadership Programme in Glasgow. In the programme, I met young people from across the Commonwealth who were already creating some kind of social change from running a successful community project to influencing political decisions in their country. We discussed change led by diversity and inspired each other through story-telling and sharing ideas.

Growing up in the East End of Glasgow, young people grow up with disadvantages such as educational inequality, lack of opportunities for personal development and poverty. I believe a courageous leader is someone who is willing to learn more about other people’s struggles and inspires them to overcome their hindrances. In my life, exemplary role models that demonstrated these qualities were my teachers and youth workers

2. Knows that positions of authority do not always determine “leadership”

As a student, I worked part-time in retail serving popcorn and hotdogs. This was my first paid employment, and besides this all I had ever done was volunteering. In volunteering, you are frequently given praise for your work and you’re encouraged to enjoy it. The world of work can be less forgiving, and even more so when you have a supervisor or manager breathing down your neck every few minutes for minimum wage. You can’t really blame them – they have quotas to achieve.

“Managing” and “Leading”, in my opinion, have totally different meanings. Where one describes the ability to organise and create structure, the other focuses on attitude and human interaction. With enough effort, these two can go hand in hand but not many employers know about this. I believe that leadership is about encouraging your workforce and offering opportunities to become the best that they can be.

3. Breaks Barriers

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” (Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare)

A quote I first came across in my English classroom as a pupil. This resonated with me as it represented the idea that you don’t have to have been born into privilege to become successful.

Examples close to home are the volunteers that I’ve worked with for YOYP2018: young people with disabilities, responsibilities as young carers, and mental health issues. Their ability to overcome these whilst putting a smile on their face every day inspires me. I have seen these incredible young people put 100% of effort into their work without expecting anything in return. Undoubtedly, they deserve to be called courageous leaders.


There is no one type of leader. You can be the most high-ranking government official or the most humble youth worker – everyone has the capacity to create change. However, a “Courageous Leader” is someone who can empower others to become a better version of themselves despite their struggles. A courageous leader is someone who sees the potential in others and is willing to help bring it out.

You can find more information about the what is going on in the Year of Young People 2018 here. If you would like to find out more about the Health and Social Care Academy’s work on Courageous Leadership and young people, please email Sarah Forster (sarah.forster@alliance-scotland.org.uk) or Clare Armstrong (clare.armstrong@alliance-scotland.org.uk) .

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