You’ve Got a Lot of Nerve!

Welcome to the Innovative Leadership Newsletter, brought to you by the Innovative Leadership Institute, where we bring you thought leaders and innovative ideas on leadership topics each week.

This week’s article is written by Dan Mushalko, VP of  Research & Media at the Innovative Leadership InstituteIt is a companion piece to an interview with Martha Piper and Indira Samarasekera on Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future, titled It Takes Nervewhich premiered January 9th, 2024. This episode was produced in partnership with the International Leadership Association as part of their 25th Annual Global Conference held in October 2023. 

Link to the entire interview:

Listen to the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneInSpotifyAmazon MusicAudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.


You’ve Got a Lot of Nerve! (And That’s a Good Thing)

Forging new territory is always hard. Forging it as a leader is even harder: your team, your stakeholders, and your critics are all watching you.

Now, imagine you are the new territory! For women entering the still-heavily male-dominated C-suite ranks, scrutiny and pressure are extra intense. Any stumble prompts mutterings of “What do you expect with a woman?”

Our guests in this week’s podcast actually heard that kind of feedback. As the first female presidents of their respective universities, Martha Piper (University of British Columbia) and Indira Samarasekera (University of Alberta) learned how to navigate through such resistance and obstacles. Those lessons can benefit all innovative leaders!

The Key:

It takes nerve, grit, and grace.

Nerve and Grit

These are really two sides of the same coin, whose currency is determination. We all face obstacles, especially when we try to make an impact. When those setbacks happen, it’s important to focus even more sharply on your goal. It’s all too easy to be blinded by the emotions of the situation, but remembering the importance of your goal helps you see that your work is bigger than you. That can energize you to move forward. Staying on target despite disruptions, simple stumbles, or outright attacks is nerve in action. Your authenticity, courage, resilience, and personal experience all help fuel your innate grit. And the more you exercise your grit, the stronger it becomes.


There’s a myth out there that grit and grace are mutually exclusive – that graceful leadership is synonymous with weakness. That myth arose from outdated machismo in the executive gym. In reality, it’s far easier to lose your temper than to muster the strength to maintain grace under fire. The ability to retain your own internal balance: to express gratitude to your team, to see the opportunities in apparent failures, and to forgive; all these elements of grace create loyalty, authenticity, and true problem-solving. In short, grace makes your leadership stronger.

Upholding Principles

Here’s where utilizing your nerve and grit comes into play at each leadership level. When you’re in the spotlight, the temptation to cave under external pressures can be strong. But truly effective leaders don’t lose sight of their values; that’s a major factor in their long-term success. Hold on to your principles, filtering your decisions through that lens. You’ll face criticism and backlash whether you bend to external pressure or not – so you might as well stay true to your principles regardless. When your team sees this, it has the added benefit of boosting your authenticity and enhancing their trust.

Doctors Samarasekera and Piper delve into more detail in this week’s podcast, and add many examples from their own lives in their new book Nerve: Two Women Who Went First.


This article was adapted by Dan Mushalko from the Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future podcast episode It Takes Nerve with guests Martha Piper and Indira Samarasekera.



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To-do list:

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future on your favorite podcast platform, including Apple PodcastsTuneInSpotifyAmazon MusicAudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One. Also, stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute on LinkedIn.

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