What is it?

Researchers consider courage to be a foundational, cross-cultural human virtue associated with key character strengths like bravery, persistence, and integrity. Although definitions of courage range, multiple studies indicate that courage features three key components:

  • Intentionality
  • Risk
  • A “Noble” Goal

In other words, courage refers to the process of identifying a risk, considering potential alternative actions that could be taken, and deciding to act in a manner that incurs risk (intentionality)—with the goal of obtaining a greater good for the self or others (a “noble” goal).

Because a new teacher believes that students shouldn’t be suspended for breaking particular school rules, she considers speaking up about the school’s suspension policy, claiming that it further alienates students from peers and teachers. She is concerned that the administrative team will disagree and disapprove of her assertiveness, but she thinks that a different disciplinary approach would be more appropriate.

Of course, your actions may be considered more (or less) courageous depending on the level of risk you experience. And what feels courageous for one person may not be judged as courageous by another.

In fact, researchers distinguish general courage from personal courage. General courage refers to confident, fearless actions that most people would consider courageous like landing a plane full of passengers safely or defending someone against a bully, yet some actions may require greater personal courage simply because of the way someone views a potential challenge—along with the fear they may associate with performing a courageous action.

An administrator who regularly leads staff meetings senses that many of his team members aren’t speaking up and participating. He believes in inclusivity and wants his colleagues to feel more empowered to speak, so he decides to step back, speak less, and share meeting facilitation with others on the team. He worries about the risk of losing his influence and “voice,” but he believes that this shared leadership approach will create space and empower other educators to contribute their ideas. Because he courageously opens up more space for teachers to contribute during meetings, those teachers also create more opportunities for student voice and agency in their own classrooms.

Several additional factors influence courageous behavior including the individual’s abilities, emotions, and beliefs—as well as the larger cultural and societal forces in play.

Ultimately, we can also engage in morally courageous actions to uphold our personal values and convictions. Our sense of honor, valor, loyalty, or duty may motivate acts of courage when our “moral code” is violated in some way.

When a school counselor witnesses one student verbally assaulting another student in a wheelchair, she immediately intervenes on behalf of the harassed student.

A principal who is getting pressure from a group of parents to limit the number of students from outside neighborhoods (thus decreasing the ethnic diversity of the school) sticks to her beliefs about the importance of desegregated schools. To avoid a political power play, she holds meetings with the parent group to hear their concerns and share her own views, helping community members to see the value of a diverse student body.

Why is it important?

Courage enhances our well-being.

  • People with a higher level of courage tend to have a greater sense of purpose and life satisfaction.


Courage helps us to navigate social and emotional challenges.

  • Greater courage in adolescents and adults is related to the use of more self-directed coping. In other words, ​​the practice of courage helps us to adapt in difficult situations—and to reach our personal and professional goals.


Courage emboldens us to stand up for our beliefs.

  • Courage is related to a willingness to speak up at work. When we have the courage to question the status quo (e.g., norms and policies), we can change the way we all feel about our institutions.


Courage undergirds authentic leadership and collegial trust.

  • Theorists link courage with authentic leadership and trust-building between leaders and employees. It takes courage to be our authentic selves with others because that also requires openness and vulnerability.


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“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
–Mary Anne Radmacher
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