The Courage of William Wilberforce

I recently gave a talk on courageous leadership, and I used the life of William Wilberforce as an example of what it means to be a truly courageous leader—the type of person who faces adversity head-on and never wavers in his resolve. As I studied Wilberforce, I discovered a person who was both passionate about accomplishing his life’s goal and unrelenting in his quest for influencing meaningful and lasting change during a dark and difficult time in history.

Wilberforce lived in England during the height of the British slave trade in the late 1700’s and became a member of Parliament at age 21. After re-connecting with his Christian faith in his early 20’s, Wilberforce committed his life to a higher calling—the pursuit of ending the British slave trade. Although he considered leaving public service for the ministry, he ultimately decided to stay in Parliament where he could advocate for the abolition of the slave trade.

So, how did Wilberforce demonstrate courageous leadership?

1) He had the courage to get clear about his purpose and values.
Wilberforce got crystal clear about his reason for existence and what he believed. That clarity led him to change the course of his life by focusing on the ultimate goal of ending the slave trade in Britain. As a result, he gave up a life of comfort to pursue a life of significance.

 2) He had the courage to not let current circumstances dictate his future.
Wilberforce knew that his crusade to end the slave trade would be wildly unpopular, but this reality did not deter him. Even in the midst of physical beatings, assassination threats, and public slander, Wilberforce stayed focused on living out his values and fulfilling his purpose.

3) He had the courage to take decisive and intentional action.
Wilberforce did not just talk about ending the slave trade, he took direct action to end it. He used his position and influence to introduce bills in Parliament time and time again throughout the 1790’s, even though they did not pass. And although he was not seeing the results he desired, Wilberforce was disciplined enough to act with conviction and continue pursuing his goals.

4) He had the courage to persevere in the midst of adversity.
Wilberforce never gave up on his dream. He stayed the course. He put forth legislative bills. He influenced public opinion about the evils of slavery. He made the case for abolition. Finally in 1807, his 20-year labor paid off, as the House of Commons in Britain voted to the end the slave trade. Wilberforce wept at the realization of his dream coming true before his very own eyes.

William Wilberforce stands today as an enduring example of what happens when good men demonstrate courageous leadership. His efforts helped to change the course of history for mankind and made our world a better place. Yet, even after achieving his goal to end the slave trade, Wilberforce committed the rest of his life to ending the institution of slavery altogether. His commitment was not in vain. In 1833, three days before his death, all slaves in the British Empire were set free. A fitting end to a life well-lived with boldness and courage.

“One man with courage makes a majority.” –Andrew Jackson


Servant Leaders Are Courageous

I believe that in order to be a true servant leader, you must demonstrate courage in the way that you lead yourself and others. In my most recent post for Lead Like Jesus, I discuss this concept and explain why it is so essential for effective leadership in any setting.

You can read my latest post by clicking HERE. Enjoy!

The Need for Courageous Leaders Today

Without a doubt, our organizations, communities, and country would be in much better shape today if we had more courageous leaders. I believe this so much that I’ve created a five-step model for courageous leadership and written a series of posts on the topic.

So, what exactly is a courageous leader? Someone who knows three things: (a) who they are on the inside, (b) where they are going in life, and (c) what is most important. As a result of being clear about these three things, a courageous leader influences people and organizations in a unique way. They focus on living out clear convictions and values, not pleasing everyone and being popular.

Take a look at this short video of me speaking on the topic of courageous leadership in our world today:

Courageous Leadership Key #5: Continue

Perseverance“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” -Winston Churchill

The fifth and final component of courageous leadership is to “continue the pursuit.” If you are going to lead with courage, then you must learn to persevere in the midst of challenges and setbacks. Obviously, this is easier said than done though.

So, what’s the formula for persevering with courage? It really goes back to the first key to courageous leadership: clarifying your core. When you know 1) who you are, 2) where you are going, and 3) what is most important, then you are able to maintain the proper perspective on life.

Challenges will inevitably arise—that’s just life. How we respond to those challenges is what makes the difference though. People who feel sorry for themselves, blame others, make excuses, and give up are not courageous leaders.

On the other hand, courageous leaders stay focused on the big picture, understanding that current circumstances do not determine their future.

  • They see challenges as opportunities for growth and setbacks as character-builders.
  • They stay true to their core and focus on the long-term goals and plans for their life.
  • They understand that perseverance is a requirement for success; not an option.

Where are you in your leadership journey? Are you lacking the courage to persevere? If so, then I encourage you to get back to the basics, starting with clarifying your core. Once you get clear about the foundation, you can move forward with courage and focus on the things that are most important.

I trust these posts on courageous leadership have been helpful to you, and I hope you will share them with others.

Lead with courage!

Courageous Leadership Key #4: Commit

Once you have decided to change…to move forward in a different direction, then the fourth part of courageous leadership is to commit. To what? Action.

This is step where most people get stalled because they fail to take action toward their goals. Why? Usually it’s due to fear. Fear of failure. Fear of risk. Fear of inadequacy. There are a lot of fears that hold us back, and they hold us back because we allow them to.

idea-action-chart.jpgCourageous leaders are not absent of fear in their life; however, they are able move forward in spite of those fears. Why? Because they know who they are, where they are going, and what is most important. There is power in clarity, and when you get clear about these three things, you can move forward with decisive action and commitment.

How can you take action that is in line with your core ideology? I like to use 90-day goals, setting one at a time. This helps create focus around the thing that is most important, right now.

1)      Set a 90-day goal that is alignment with your purpose and vision.

2)      Identify 3-4 key objectives that will help you achieve this goal.

3)      List 3-4 actionable items that can be implemented to achieve your objectives.

4)      Use metrics to measure progress toward your objectives & your goal.

5)      Do this every 90 days.

That’s it! Write it down somewhere and review it daily to help keep you on track.

Watch part four of my talk on courageous leadership to learn more about how to take decisive action and move forward with courage.