Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.--Winston Churchill

I was standing in front of the boardroom, my last slide up on the screen. Everyone knew what was coming.

"Is that all you marketing $#*!s know how to do," my CEO lashed out, "cut prices?" He was fuming.

"No, that's not all I know how to do," I said. "But if we don't do it, we're going under."

It took courage to propose what I knew would unhinge our famously mercurial and intimidating CEO. Likewise, it took courage for him to listen and ultimately agree to do something that was as foreign to him as dry land is to fish.

As leadership attributes go, courage is the big one. It comes from facing and overcoming fear. And the reward for that effort couldn't be bigger. For present or future executives, business owners, and entrepreneurs, courage will enable you to ...

Follow your gut when everyone tells you you're crazy. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin spent years trying to get anyone who would listen to invest in their idea of a dedicated search company. They never gave up. Entrepreneurs do that all the time.

Take risks with big downsides and no safety net. Every small-business owner knows exactly what that feels like. It's scary. It keeps you up at night. Sometimes the only counterbalance is your strength of will and your courage.

Deliver bad news. One of the hardest things for a manager or business owner to do is to tell employees, customers, or investors what they don't want to hear, to tell it to them straight.

Face your critics and listen openly to what they have to say. You can do that only if your courage and humility outweigh your ego and hubris.

Act on your beliefs, knowing it may cause you pain. When Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare, he knew it risked alienating customers. Indeed, many boycotted the supermarket chain.

Take on bigger, better-funded competitors. All over the world, thousands of entrepreneurs and small-business owners do this every day.

Look in the mirror and confront what you see. As Thoreau said in Walden, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." So many of us live in denial because we're afraid to see ourselves for what we really are.

Challenge your comfort zone and face your fear. An associate of mine was so shy as a child, he nearly passed out when he had to speak in class. Now he's a CEO. Likewise, I had a terrible fear of public speaking. It's far more common in successful people than you might think.

Where does courage come from? You're not born with it. You develop it through experience. Every time you face a fear, you build confidence and courage. No matter the outcome, it's never as bad as your fear makes it out to be. That's what makes the "get back up on the horse" metaphor so powerful.

That said, every time you give in to fear, that reinforces it. Sooner or later, you simply run out of opportunities to face your fears. And that leads to regret.

Facing fear and thwarting regret have always been powerful motivators for me. Why, I'm not exactly sure. But I do know it's served me well throughout my career and my life.

Another thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is this: The potential to overcome fear and build courage is equal inside each and every one of you. What you do with it is entirely up to you.