Three Lost Truths About Valor in Leadership

I was having lunch recently with a CEO of a private company who I am fortunate to have as a friend and he mentioned the concept of “valor in leadership.”  He was concerned that it was, in essence, becoming a lost art.

When I gave my mind permission to wander off to images of valor in leadership, I realized that the word valor was evoking thoughts of knights in shining armor leading armies to defend their kingdoms, and princes defying fire-breathing dragons to rescue princesses from fortress towers.

Heroism.  Risk.  Courage.  Sacrifice.  Loyalty.  Love.

All of these ideals were romanticized in my mind of course, but they were all present in that potent elixir of valor.

And yet, when I went to to get an “official” definition of the word it said nothing about sacrifice, loyalty or love…


boldness or determination in facing great danger, especially in battle; heroic courage; bravery: a medal for valor.

Heroism? Absolutely.

Risk? Of course.

Courage? At its core.

But the words sacrifice, loyalty and love are not included in the definition.

Should they be?

Well, I don’t believe that to be a great leader one must act heroically or face great danger or a battle of any sort.  But, I do believe that some of the principles that I am attributing to valor – which may not technically be part of its definition but seem to me to be its underpinning - are critical to great leadership:

1. Sacrifice

Ironically, last summer I wrote a post entitled, “The Leadership Sacrifice and its Toll on Mere Mortals” about sacrificing parts of ourselves to be successful in our leadership roles.  I still agree with myself – there is no need to sacrifice parts of ourselves.  But, I do believe that leadership forces us to sacrifice in some ways by putting ourselves “out there” for our companies and our teams.

Sacrifice implies giving something up for the sake of a higher good.  We often give up our comfort zones to take on the risks of leadership.  We face our fears determinedly to lead our organizations well. We may give up anonymity to courageously take on visibility. And we sacrifice the comfort of “knowing” where we are at and what we are dealing with to courageously and boldly move forward into the unknown and lead toward a vision – maybe even a heroic one.

2. Loyalty

It may not be part of the definition, but I believe that with valor there is loyalty to a bold vision and to a cause greater than one’s self.  There is a principled commitment to goals understood by everyone.

There is loyalty to your team and to the company at large.  And in loyalty there is belief in the greatness of the vision and the team.

3. Love

Ultimately, it’s all about love, right?  Love of kingdom, love of country, love of family, romantic love.  It’s about loving what you are doing down to your bones and letting that exude in the way you lead.

That is leading with valor.

I don’t believe valor is a lost art when it comes to leadership.  I believe it’s alive and well and that great leaders demonstrate it every day – just in a much less glorified manner than those hopelessly romantic images that appear when my mind wanders off.

Now, the next question is – do you believe valor is alive and well and critical to great leadership?

Please share your thoughts below in the comments and please join Steve Woodruff and me as we go in-depth on the topic at Leadership Chat this Tuesday evening, April 5th at 8:00 pm Eastern Time.  We’d be honored to see you there!

As always, a transcript of the chat will be available the following day on our Leadership Chat website.  Leadership Chat happens every Tuesday evening on Twitter at 8pm ET – if you cannot make it this week please feel free to join us in the future!


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You can find me on Twitter at @LisaPetrilli and on LinkedIn.To hire me for Visionary Leadership programs, Marketing Strategy work or for the Social Media Concierge program, email me at [email protected].

Photo is Knight in Shining Armor.


  1. I enjoy the way you make me think about leadership in terms that I normally don’t. This is very thought provoking… thank you for helping me stretch my mental muscles!
    Craig Juengling´s last blog post ..Finding the Sweet Spot… use the Hedgehog Concept

  2. Lisa,
    You say: “I don’t believe valor is a lost art when it comes to leadership. I believe it’s alive and well and that great leaders demonstrate it every day.” Are you talking about in life generally or specifically in the business world? Did you ask your friend why he thought valor in leadership was becoming a lost art? What is he witnessing that brings him to this conclusion?

    Last evening I watched yet another special about the mortgage/foreclosure crisis. You know what I asked myself at the end of the 60 Minute segment? In 10-15 years was there no financial officer, broker, underwriter or clerk that had the nerve to stand up and blow the whistle on every major and minor financial institution regarding the packaging and documentation (or lack of same) of these “mortgages”? Now that would have been an example of valor and leadership. To me valor is the act of standing up and taking action, doing what is right, whether or not anyone is following you.

    Oh, well, it is Monday and I so enjoy reading your posts…I don’t always get to participate in #leadershipchat, but I hope to this week.

    Judy Helfand´s last blog post ..BUtterfield 8 Remembering Elizabeth Taylor and My Dad

    • Judy,

      I was talking specifically about business but I believe it applies in life as well. It’s interesting, when I mentioned the word valor in a tweet last night, CASUDI said it was “an old word.” And I think it evokes old-world images – we don’t use it much these days.

      In my friend’s experience, he is experiencing it more as a loss of ethics. I didn’t want to get into that in this post – I wanted to address the role that values play in a broader sense. And values is certainly at the crux of the problem that you are referring to in your comment! You and I are definitely on the same page here. I hope to see you tomorrow night – glad to hear that it might be a possibility!

  3. The word valor invokes such positive feelings. It takes me back to the days when decency and chivalry were aspired to instead of trounced on. I like your additions to the overall context Lisa. I do think it should be part of our leadership style. It is those finite points that define us and exhibit whether we are knights by title or by heart. Thanks for the post.
    Jonathan Saar´s last blog post ..Build Your Facebook Community One Post at a Time

    • Jonathan I got goosebumps when I read your sentence, “It is those finite points that define us and exhibit whether we are knights by title or by heart.” Eloquently said. Thank you for that – I love the feeling and the image it invokes! Hope to see you tonight.

  4. Michelle Fordign says:

    I enjoyed your post. I enjoyed the different way of looking at leadership and I LOVE the word valor to describe it!

  5. Lisa, I love the way you really dig into topics!

    I definitely think a number of people show valor in leadership now, although it probably is more understated these days.

    Loyalty is critical in leadership. I worked at my hometown newspaper for almost 11 years as a writer, editor and team leader. Our staff did a lot with not many resources. We banded together to help each other and to get great stories to our readers. I was a young team leader, so I regularly made time to take my team members to lunch so they knew I valued their opinions, their ideas and their hard work. It was such a loyal group, and every time another round of layoffs happened, we cried because we felt like part of our “family” was leaving.

    Now that I work for a nonprofit foundation, a shared and deep love for our mission shines through in the people I work with. This is not just a paycheck for us. We have skin in the game. We are determined to lead the way toward improving the health of all Kansans, and our grantees do such fabulous work. It’s a true privilege to be in this role, to do this work, to share the stories of the people we help.

    Thanks so much for an inspiring post, @kamkansas
    Kathy Manweiler´s last blog post ..Bridging the Dental Gap

    • Thank you, Kathy and I’m so sorry I’m just seeing this comment this morning!

      Your stories of loyalty – and how they stem from different wellsprings in each situation – are beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing them here, and I couldn’t be happier for you. It sounds like you are living your true, personal mission. That’s so inspiring to see!

      As always, thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and insights here – I really appreciate it.

  6. Steve G says:

    Lisa –

    Thanks for your post – as usual, you have an incredible ability to look at leadership in a different way and deliver your thoughts that make your reader stop and truly think about what you are saying. I saved your posts this week to read when I had more time – and I am glad I did.

    Sacrifice, Loyalty, Love – each one is a critical part of Leadership. Especially in Middle Management, where sometimes you lead in the face of “Danger” – protecting your staff from the demands that can take them away from their true mission.

    The word that speaks to me is LOYALTY: As you put it – loyalty to the mission, loyalty to your people, and I believe, loyalty to your values. I have witnessed over and over again, leaders who stray from who they are and what they believe in inorder to go a long with what others want them to be. It takes courage to stand up to others (especially if those others are above you) and be loyal to your beliefs.

    Thanks Lisa for your commitment to your readers.


    • Steve, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this comment – thank you from the bottom of my heart. :) I love that it was loyalty that resonated most, and I applaud your point that it takes courage to stand up to others and be loyal to your beliefs. All the best, Steve and see you Tuesday evening…


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