What does the word courage mean to you? The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines courage as – “the ability to disregard fear; bravery. Having the courage of one’s convictions and acting on one’s beliefs.” Over the centuries, courage has been regarded as a core virtue which then enables other virtues such as truthfulness, responsibility, integrity, authenticity, accountability and persistence. I rather love Ernest Hemingway’s famous definition of courage as “grace under pressure.”
Being in a leadership role, one is constantly in a fish bowl. A leader is being constantly watched for everything she does, how well she does this along with what she does not say or do. The current business and economic VUCA context calls for even greater leadership courage, resilience, agility, nimbleness and innovation. Managers and leaders courage gets tested every day.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.
– Ambrose Redmoon.
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For the purpose of this blog, I have broken down courage into three levels where a leader’s courage is called upon. As you read these, note where you show more courage along with what is more challenging for you and why?
1) Courage required to make business and organizational decisions. For example, whether to take a particular risk or not, to introduce a new system or process that goes against the current way of doing things, to change the business model and introduce a new product or service line.
2) Interpersonal courage – having a courageous conversation with someone such as giving performance feedback, breaking bad news, being vulnerable and sharing something about oneself and publicly backing someone when others aren’t.
3) Intrapersonal or self courage – standing up for what you know is right in the face of opposition, “walking the talk,” not being afraid to say, “ I don’t know or I don’t understand,” and daring to live life by your principles and beliefs.
Over the years I have often had clients say that they found it easier to be courageous and take a stand on business decisions because they found it to be a more clear cut, logical and analytical process. This was also in line with their role expectations. (MBTI users will immediately spot a “T” – those with a thinking preference!)
In category two, some managers and leaders rated themselves as being “okay” in having the tough conversations required of them from time to time be it with external stakeholders, their team or the Board. “Never a joy, but has to be done!” is the sentiment expressed. Others found this a challenge and became conflict avoidant. This invariably ended up costing them both financially and emotionally.
Where most of us struggle, it seems, is with our own hidden internal fight – whether this has to do with self-belief, confidence, fear of failure, self doubt or the need to please others too much. In other words, what is powerfully present and getting in the way is our own hidden ‘below the line’ iceberg struggle.
If you find yourself identifying with the above a good coaching question to ask yourself is – “what would you do that you are not currently doing if you had more of X – say self-belief?
And then ask yourself, “who do you need to be and what do you need to do to take a more courageous step towards this outcome?”
And how would life be different if you could “feel the fear and do it anyway?”
As the adage goes, courage isn’t about being without fear but having the willingness to do what is required, even in face of that fear.
And courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes according to Mary Anne Radmacher, courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “ I will try again tomorrow.”