Leading with Courage in a VUCA World

Sustaining organisational performance in an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) (Bennett & Lemoine, 2014) is challenging and falls to the leadership within an organisation.  This environment has contributed to corporate scandals including that of Enron in 2001 and Lehman Brothers in 2008.  Might the collapse of both of these organisations have been averted by a strong expression of courage by senior and executive employees?  Might courage – defined as “an intentional constructive or moral action taken by an individual in the presence of perceived personal risk and uncertainty of outcome (personal or organisational) in order to resolve or avert an organisational dilemma” – avert further global collapses?

Warren Bennis, described as a “renowned leadership scholar” (Jablin, 2006, p. 102), espouses that “courage is the ‘X’ factor that can make or break corporate America” (as cited in Jablin, 2006, p. 102).  In Australia, could courage have deterred the fraudulent activity of the leadership of HIH Insurance that led to their insolvency in 2001?  Could courage have averted the recent need for the many apologies from CEO Shayne Elliott on behalf of the ANZ Bank to its customers (Remeikis, 2016)?  Might courage enable Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to deliver on promises made prior to our most recent Federal election?  Certainly, the leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has challenged Turnbull to have courage to lead his party.

My recent Master of Applied Positive Psychology Capstone paper established the case for courage as an enabler of leadership, providing argument and a framework for developing a measurable, outcomes-based intervention to build courage.  Specifically, it proposes that building courage will enable authentic leadership behaviour in senior and executive leaders, with an additional positive impact on leader workplace wellbeing. 

My paper combines academic theory with practitioner evidence – including my own sixteen years’ experience as a practitioner in the field of leadership and organisational culture development.  The aforementioned definition of courage – which I have developed – is the foundation for this paper and for my proposed program.  This program uses narrative methodology to build courage, with measures of leader’s workplace courage, authentic leadership and workplace wellbeing taken pre- and post-intervention.  It is anticipated that each of these measures will show positive shifts in behaviour over time.

Let us know if you’d like to know more.


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