Leading with Emotional Courage

How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, and Inspire Action on Your Most Important Work 

By Peter Bregman

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You have the opportunity to lead: to show up with confidence, connected to others, and committed to a purpose in a way that inspires others to follow. Maybe it’s in your workplace, or in your relationships, or simply in your own life. But great leadership—leadership that aligns teams, inspires action, and achieves results—is hard. And what makes it hard isn’t theoretical, it’s practical. It’s not about knowing what to say or do. It’s about whether you’re willing to experience the discomfort, risk, and uncertainty of saying or doing it. In other words, the most critical challenge of leadership is emotional courage. If you are willing to feel everything, you can do anything.

Leading with Emotional Courage, based on the author’s popular blogs for Harvard Business Review, provides practical, real-world advice for building your emotional courage muscle. Each short, easy to read chapter details a distinct step in this emotional “workout,” giving you grounded advice for handling the difficult situations without sacrificing professional ground. By building the courage to say the necessary but difficult things, you become a stronger leader and leave the “should’ves” behind.

Theoretically, leadership is straightforward, but how many people actually lead? The gap between theory and practice is huge. Emotional courage is what bridges that gap. It’s what sets great leaders apart from the rest. It gets results. It cuts through the distractions, the noise, and the politics to solve problems and get things done. This book is packed with actionable steps you can take to start building these skills now.

  • Have the courage to speak up when others remain silent
  • Be stable and grounded in the face of uncertainty
  • Respond productively to opposition without getting distracted
  • Weather others’ anger without shutting down or getting defensive

Leading with Emotional Courage coaches you to build your emotional courage, exercise it effectively, and create an environment in which people around you take accountability to get hard things done.

Read an Excerpt

This book has been endorsed by over 30 bestselling authors, CEOs, thought leaders, artists, and government and military leaders.

  • “...a trailblazing idea, inspirational manifesto and eminently achievable manual.”
    Jeffrey Seller, four-time Tony Award winning producer of Hamilton
    read more

    Leading with Emotional Courage is a trailblazing idea, inspirational manifesto and eminently achievable manual. Peter Bregman’s central idea, “if you can feel everything, you can do anything,” instantly became my motto for forging more productive and rewarding relationships in every aspect of my life. It’s ingenious, it’s intuitive, and it works.”

    Jeffrey Seller, four-time Tony Award winning producer of Hamilton, Rent, Avenue Q, In the Heights.

  • “...an absolute necessity if you want to get your most important work done.”
    James A. Forese
    President, Citigroup
    read more

    Leading with Emotional Courage is a terrific guide that explains why and how we need to look inward before we can drive leadership forward. It will also help you connect on a deeper level with those around you—an absolute necessity if you want to  get your most important work done.”

    ‒ James A. Forese
    President, Citigroup

  • “Peter is a master storyteller who offers compelling and important takeaways...”
    Garry Ridge, CEO WD-40 Company
    and co-author with Ken Blanchard of Helping People Win at Work
    read more

    “Peter is a master storyteller who offers compelling and important takeaways that really do make a difference. The principles in this book are the ones I believe in, and they are aligned with those that helped me and my tribe build a culture that resulted in a 93% employee engagement level at WD-40 Company.”

    ‒ Garry Ridge, CEO WD-40 Company
    and co-author with Ken Blanchard of Helping People Win at Work

  • “Leading with Emotional Courage is a leader’s blueprint...”
    Frances Hesselbein, Chairman, The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum
    Former CEO of the Girl Scouts, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient
    read more

    “We must see ourselves ‘life size,’ as Peter Drucker instructed. Leading with Emotional Courage is a leader’s blueprint to do so.”

    ‒ Frances Hesselbein, Chairman, The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum,
    Former CEO of the Girl Scouts, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

  • “...emotional courage is absolutely key to your personal leadership journey.”
    Harry Kraemer, Jr, Professor
    Northwestern Kellogg School of Mgmt; Former Chairman and CEO, BAXTER International
    read more

    “Becoming a Values-based leader requires you to first be capable of leading yourself. Peter does a fantastic job of demonstrating why emotional courage is absolutely key to your personal leadership journey. I learned a lot by reading Peter’s book.”

    ‒ Harry Kraemer, Jr, Professor
    Northwestern Kellogg School of Mgmt; Former Chairman and CEO, BAXTER International

  • “...you will want to share it with your colleagues, your kids, and others in your life.”
    Asheesh Advani, CEO
    JA (Junior Achievement) Worldwide
    read more

    “After reading this book, you will want to share it with your colleagues, your kids, and others in your life. Peter is a master at drawing readers in with self-evaluation, compelling stories, and concrete takeaways. This book will stay on my bookshelf as a reference.”

    Asheesh Advani, CEO
    JA (Junior Achievement) Worldwide

  • “Leading with Emotional Courage is good for business, good for people, and good for the planet.”
    Mark R. Tercek
    President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy
    read more

    “Leading with Emotional Courage is good for business, good for people, and good for the planet. Bregman’s book offers the communications tools environmentalists and other nonprofit leaders need to transform tough conversations into progress and action.”

    Mark R. Tercek
    President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy

  • “...brilliantly identifies the often unnoticed emotional undercurrents of high-stakes business situations...”
    Michael Thatcher
    CEO, Charity Navigator
    read more

    “Leading with Emotional Courage brilliantly identifies the often unnoticed emotional undercurrents of high-stakes business situations and the dynamics of everyday interactions. By making conscious the unconscious, this book offers us control over our own decisions and actions, asking us to open our minds and be curious when emotions are provoked. It has helped me personally to turn some of my most counter-productive reactions into questions. With practical, real-life examples and bite-sized nuggets of information, this book is relevant to everyone, not just ultra-senior leadership.”

    Michael Thatcher
    CEO, Charity Navigator

  • “...useful tools for people to own their unique strength and power...”
    Randall Tucker
    Mastercard Chief Inclusion Officer
    read more

    “At the end of the day, Peter gives useful tools for people to own their unique strength and power to be bold leaders in the board room and at the kitchen table.”

    ‒ Randall Tucker
    Mastercard Chief Inclusion Officer

  • “...groundbreaking and timely book, Leading with Emotional Courage, does not merely inspire action, it cultivates it.”
    James M. Citrin, Leader
    Spencer Stuart CEO Practice, Author, You’re in Charge, Now What?
    read more

    “Emotional Courage is the foundation for inspirational and effective leadership. Peter Bregman’s groundbreaking and timely book, Leading with Emotional Courage, does not merely inspire action, it cultivates it. Through concrete and actionable how-to’s and compelling stories, this book will change the way you make decisions, how you speak in a boardroom, and actually how you feel at the end of each day.  Leading with Emotional Courage is right on target and surprisingly different than anything out there. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time!”

    James M. Citrin, Leader
    Spencer Stuart CEO Practice, Author, You’re in Charge, Now What?

  • “This is a brave and generous book about being brave and generous. Emotional courage isn't about getting what we want, it's about serving others. Peter Bregman is sharing useful magic here.”
    Seth Godin
    Author, Linchpin
    read more

    “This is a brave and generous book about being brave and generous. Emotional courage isn’t about getting what we want, it’s about serving others. Peter Bregman is sharing useful magic here.”

    ‒ Seth Godin
    Author, Linchpin

  • “It’s about getting out of your own way and having the emotional freedom to act.”
    Ken Blanchard
    coauthor of The New One Minute Manager® and Servant Leadership in Action
    read more

    “Emotional courage is the courage to feel. It’s what stands between us and the difficult things we must do as leaders. Emotional courage grows stronger when you practice it—by taking a risk, making a decision, or otherwise following through when you may not be comfortable doing so. It’s about getting out of your own way and having the emotional freedom to act. Want to know more? Then follow through and read this book!”

    ‒ Ken Blanchard
    co-author of The New One Minute Manager® and Servant Leadership in Action

  • “Peter’s concept of Emotional Courage is a game-changer.”
    Marshall Goldsmith
    author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Triggers
    read more

    “Peter’s concept of Emotional Courage is a game-changer. It isn’t just another theory about productivity or leadership—it’s a truth you can feel. It affects every aspect of your leadership and every relationship in your life. The beauty of this book is that it helps you actually strengthen those critical mental-emotional muscles and will make even the most successful leaders better.”

    ‒ Marshall Goldsmith
    author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Triggers

  • “...tackles a tough subject that isn't much talked about in the business world.”
    Daniel H. Pink
    author of When and Drive
    read more

    “Leading With Emotional Courage tackles a tough subject that isn’t much talked about in the business world: the hard emotions that we all experience. If you courageously adopt the advice in this breakthrough book, you can begin the tough conversations that lead to real change, build more trusting relationships, and perhaps even become an inspiration to others.”

    ‒ Daniel H. Pink
    author of When and Drive

  • “...brimming with applicable insights and lessons.”
    Robert B. Cialdini
    Author of Influence and Pre-Suasion
    read more

    “Want to learn how to brave the fears associated with difficult interpersonal exchanges on the job and elsewhere?  Emotional Courage, brimming with applicable insights and lessons, is definitely the book for you.”

    Robert B. Cialdini
    Author of Influence and Pre-Suasion

  • “The insights resonate, the assessments inform, and the stories inspire.”
    Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor
    Ross School of Business, University of Michigan Partner, The RBL Group
    read more

    “Change begins from within; so does leadership. Bregman’s insights help leaders gain personal confidence so that they can approach others with a clear purpose and bold, courageous actions. This marvelous book lets me feel like Peter is sitting next to me, coaching me how to be more effective. The insights resonate, the assessments inform, and the stories inspire.”  

    ‒ Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor
    Ross School of Business, University of Michigan Partner, The RBL Group

  • “Peter Bregman has a different voice.”
    Dave Evans, Co-Founder, Stanford Life Design Lab
    Co-author, NYT #1 Bestseller, Designing Your Life, early Apple, co-founder Electronic Arts
    read more

    “It’s incredibly refreshing to get this sort of wise and kind advice from someone who specializes in helping leaders get “massive traction.” Most voices you’d hear today urging “massive traction” would speak fast, hard, unrelenting exhortations couched in inspirational illustrations of super-human performance. We’re looking for help to be more human – not super-human, which is a very different, and frankly in-human, thing. Peter Bregman has a different voice. What other “massive traction-getting” coaches will suggest that compassion is critical foundation of self-confidence or that you need to master irrelevancy if you’re going to succeed (and better do so well before retirement)? I’ve been assigning students to read Peter’s contrary ideas for years and I recommend this book to you.”

    Dave Evans, Co-Founder, Stanford Life Design Lab
    Co-author, NYT #1 Bestseller, Designing Your Life, early Apple, co-founder Electronic Arts

  • “Emotional courage is the superpower of the 21st Century!”
    Christine Carter, PhD
    Author of The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less and Raising Happiness
    read more

    “Emotional courage is the superpower of the 21st Century! We live in a world where it is far easier to avoid our feelings than it is to feel them. As such, emotional courage is becoming rare at the same time that it is increasingly valuable. The people who cultivate emotional courage—who are confident, connected, and committed to their purpose—will thrive. Leading with Emotional Courage is an accessible action plan for breaking through the emotional barriers that prevent people from doing what they want to do.”

     Christine Carter, PhD
    Author of The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less and Raising Happiness

  • “A superb read!”
    Stephen M. R. Covey, The New York Times and # 1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author
    of The Speed of Trust and coauthor of Smart Trust
    read more

    “Engaging and relevant, Peter Bregman’s Leading with Emotional Courage provides a clear and practical framework to follow when facing emotionally-charged situations. He challenges us to face our fears and stand strong by offering both principles and skills that teach us how to confidently act before being acted upon. A superb read!”

    ‒ Stephen M. R. Covey, The New York Times and # 1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author
    of The Speed of Trust and co-author of Smart Trust

  • “... compelling argument for the power of embracing difficult emotions.”
    Cal Newport, author of Deep Work
    read more

    “Leading without courage is not really leading at all. Bregman presents a compelling argument for the power of embracing difficult emotions.”

    ‒ Cal Newport, author of Deep Work

  • “...you’ll want to be more like the person Peter describes once you’ve experienced this book.”
    Jim Kouzes, coauthor of the bestselling The Leadership Challenge
    and the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University
    read more

    “Leading with Emotional Courage is about putting your whole self into something. About embracing your fears, expressing your passions, showing your vulnerabilities, and engaging fully with others. It’s a book that you do not simply read. Instead, you experience it. It’s full of pathos and compassion, enlightenment and practicality. It’s like conversing with your best friend.  You come away feeling refreshed, entertained, and wiser. Peter Bregman is a master storyteller, and he enlivens his sage counsel with scores of personal tales, joyfully told, each containing simple wisdom and hard truths. There are lots of how-to-do books on the market. Leading with Emotional Courage isn’t one of them. It’s a how-to-be book, and I guarantee you that you’ll want to be more like the person Peter describes once you’ve experienced this book. I highly recommend it.”

    ‒ Jim Kouzes, coauthor of the bestselling The Leadership Challenge
    and the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University

  • “...manageable, bite-sized insights into thought and behavior changes that can help any leader...”
    Whitney Johnson, Thinkers50 Leading Management Thinker, Critically-acclaimed author of Disrupt Yourself
    read more

    “There’s a line between the domineering, overbearing management style of decades past—less effective because it’s tone deaf to people—and an increasingly self-aware and people-oriented leadership style that can be less effective if it’s too wimpy to get the job done. Bregman offers a thoughtful guide to finding and walking that sometimes elusive line. Leading With Emotional Courage offers manageable, bite-sized insights into thought and behavior changes that can help any leader be empathetic enough to honor our shared humanity but still courageous enough to make the tough decisions and initiate the hard conversations essential to a thriving workplace.”

    ‒ Whitney Johnson, Thinkers50 Leading Management Thinker, Critically-acclaimed author of Disrupt Yourself

  • “...nuanced advice on how we can navigate the complex landscape of our emotional life...”
    Tal Ben-Shahar, Author, The Joy of Leadership
    read more

    “Peter Bregman gives nuanced advice on how we can navigate the complex landscape of our emotional life–to become better leaders, (and better human beings), by being more connected to ourselves and others.”

    ‒ Tal Ben-Shahar, Author, The Joy of Leadership

  • “... brilliantly highlights the often overlooked, but critical aspect of leadership – the courage to feel.”
    Sanyin Siang, Author, The Launch Book; Executive Director, Duke University Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics
    read more

    “To be effective, leaders must move the heart, starting with their own. Bregman brilliantly highlights the often overlooked, but critical aspect of leadership – the courage to feel. Read this book to tap into the power of emotion and unleash your and your team’s true potential.”

    ‒ Sanyin Siang, Author, The Launch Book; Executive Director, Duke University Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics

  • “...help you build your confidence, bring out the best in others, and summon the emotional courage you need to succeed...”
    Liz Wiseman, New York Times bestselling author of Multipliers and Rookie Smarts
    read more

    “Emotional Courage is a wonderful reminder that if you are willing to feel everything you can do anything.  The book, laced with Bregman’s own courageous honesty and openness, will help you build your confidence, bring out the best in others, and summon the emotional courage you need to succeed as a leader.”

    ‒ Liz Wiseman, New York Times bestselling author of Multipliers and Rookie Smarts

  • “...deeply insightful, a pleasure to read, and an indispensable guide...”
    Andy Molinsky, Ph.D., author of Reach and Global Dexterity
    read more

    “In Leading with Emotional Courage, Peter Bregman provides us with a novel roadmap for how to embrace, rather than avoid, difficult emotions and, in so doing, live more fulfilling lives. The book is deeply insightful, a pleasure to read, and an indispensable guide for making discomfort and conflict a trusted ally and friend.”

    ‒ Andy Molinsky, Ph.D., author of Reach and Global Dexterity

  • “Finally, a book to inspire those of us who lead through the conflict inherent to organizations.”
    Thomas A. Kolditz, PhD, Brigadier General, US Army (ret), Professor Emeritus, US Military Academy, West Point, Director, Ann & John Doerr Institute for New Leaders, Rice University
    read more

    “Cowardice, as characterized by excessive self-interest, has become pervasive across our society.  Peter Bregman has given us the tools to be emotionally courageous. As leaders we want to have tough conversations that benefit our organizations, and Leading With Emotional Courage shows us the way.  Readers will emerge from Leading With Emotional Courage with renewed enthusiasm for the day to day challenges of leading. Peter Bregman’s book promises to free a huge cohort of leaders from the anxieties that get in the way of doing what’s right, instead of what’s easy.  Choosing the harder right over the easy wrong is one of the “Holy Grails” of leader development—and in Leading With Emotional Courage, Peter Bregman has captured that prize. Finally, a book to inspire those of us who lead through the conflict inherent to organizations.”

    ‒ Thomas A. Kolditz, PhD, Brigadier General, US Army (ret), Professor Emeritus, US Military Academy, West Point, Director, Ann & John Doerr Institute for New Leaders, Rice University

  • “I recommend this book to anyone who is committed to becoming a better leader!”
    Bernie Banks, Brigadier General, US Army (ret), Associate Dean of Leadership Development, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management
    read more

    “Leading With Emotional Courage is a great guide for practitioners who want to heighten their ability to influence others effectively.  The book clearly identifies four elements associated with exhibiting emotional courage and provides tangible exercises in service of strengthening one’s competence in a given area.  I recommend this book to anyone who is committed to becoming a better leader!”

    ‒ Bernie Banks, Brigadier General, US Army (ret), Associate Dean of Leadership Development, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

  • “Take this path; you’ll be larger for it.”
    Charlotte Beers, Former CEO Ogilvy, Former Undersecretary Of State
    read more

    “Peter has spoken with such candor of the interior conversations we use to magnify or sabotage our leadership moments . It’s like having a workable path, where you are taught to watch yourself and learn to lead. Take this path; you’ll be larger for it.”

    Charlotte Beers, Former CEO Ogilvy, Former Undersecretary Of State

  • “....lovely mix of personal and professional anecdotes and straight talk...”
    Jim Millstein, Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Millstein & Co., Former Chief Restructuring Officer at the U.S. Department of the Treasury
    read more

    “What a lovely mix of personal and professional anecdotes and straight talk about the importance of taking emotions – yours and your colleagues –into account in the task of leading an organization. As Bregman’s book so eloquently explains, as long as organizations are composed of humans and not robots, the fundamental challenge of corporate leadership is to get a diverse group of highly emotional creatures to work together effectively – which requires that leaders confront, head on, the need of everyone in the organization to have a sense of common purpose and connectedness. As leaders, we need the emotional courage to engage with our colleagues where they live, where the desire for affirmation and the fear of failure are constantly in play. I am grateful to Peter for writing this book.”

    ‒ Jim Millstein, Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Millstein & Co., Former Chief Restructuring Officer at the U.S. Department of the Treasury

  • “The world needs more people with emotional courage.”
    Mark Sanford, Unites States Congressman
    read more

    “Emotional courage is critical to getting anything important done. And Bregman’s book is the essential primer to developing it. If you lead – or aspire to lead – read this book. The world needs more people with emotional courage.

    Mark Sanford, Unites States Congressman

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