Talking Courage with a Man Undecided

(4.5 minute read.)

paul carpenter

Paul Carpenter (Husband, Father, Thinker, Listener, Mentor, Observer & Dog Walker) has spent the last thirty years observing the world & the people around him.  His first job was as a paper-boy on the streets of South Brisbane where he learnt the valuable lessons of customer service, sales, marketing, risk -v- reward & doing an honest day’s work.

Since 1989, Paul has worked across the retail, hospitality and financial services industries.  Today, Paul provides personal mentoring to individuals, presents to teams and consults to businesses.

Join us as Paul shares his perspectives and stories of courage; that courage is personal and looks different for different people.

How would you describe workplace courage?

I’m not sure that courage is necessarily different in the workplace as opposed to other facets of our lives.  Courage, for me, is very personal – that is to say, the definition of courage is different for each individual person.

The very matter of turning up at work may be an act of courage for an individual seized by anxiety.  For some, the ability to speak up in a meeting may be an act of courage. For others, courage may be represented by standing up to authority figures or disrupting the status quo in some way to progress a cause.

Courage is not fixed – it runs across a vast personal continuum.

We often see, hear and think about the word “courage” and automatically attach a positiveness to it.  But that’s not necessarily the case.  It depends on where and for what purpose the courage is being created.

Ultimately, I believe, courage is best sourced from humility rather than from ego.

What I mean by that is that we can often see acts which are courageous but are ultimately driven by the ego, the self, the desire to fulfil some internal need or want of the individual.  The outcomes of this type of courage are typically to serve the individual and not the greater good.  In history we see the likes of Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Mugabi or Castro who all acted with courage to confront the status quo to bring about change – what they did was courageous, but it came from a place, ultimately, of serving their own self and ego.

On the other hand, again referring to history, we have the examples of people such as Mandela, Gandhi, Rosa Parks or Eddie Mabo who also acted with courage – but in these cases the courage was born out of a sense of humility or a desire to change the lot of life for a wide section of society.

What does courage look like in your workplace?

Well, I spent the better part of the last 20 years working in one financial Institution.  Courage was not a word often used and perhaps in banking that’s a good thing.  But to be successful you did need to be somewhat courageous.  Having the courage to disagree was important.  The ability to articulate a position and argue your case, based on facts, was critical.  The inherent, systemic response was often to label this behaviour in a negative light – and that’s understandable – often the acts of courage can bring about disequilibrium and change in a system and other individuals which is typically reasoned as a threat by our amygdala.

Importantly, the courage to admit when you might be incorrect and the courage to change your mind were essential for the entire system to be successful.  This was often seen as being ‘wishy-washy’ or ‘soft’ but to me were, and are, signs of maturity, humility and strength of purpose in an individual.

paul carpenter 1

Please describe when you have been courageous.  What did you do?  Who or what enabled you to be courageous?  What was the outcome?

Certainly, the proudest I have been of any action I’ve taken in the last 30 years was to re-calibrate the salaries of the women in my team to match those of the men.

On assuming my last corporate role, I reviewed the salary position of the 15 people who reported to me.  It became clear very quickly that the four women in this team were all paid significantly less than their male counterparts.  Very high on my VIA Character Strengths is “Fairness” and this position was something I simply could not tolerate.

It was near to the annual budget review which typically included centralised recommendations for salary increases to individual team members.  When I received this report, the recommendation was for small, across the board increases to everyone in my team.  I decided then and there to adjust and skew the budget to provide increases only to the women on the team which enabled me to bring their salaries more closely in line with the men.

On initial review of my new recommendations I was asked “why?,” but upon explaining the facts and highlighting the inherent unfairness I was pleased to gain the full support of my superiors.

The conversations with the men in my team were tough – they were used to getting an annual salary increase (albeit not significant – perhaps 2% – 4%).  Whilst they did not necessarily like the fact that they’d missed out of their annual increase they all understood why I made the decision.

For me, the lessons were to act with courage from a place of humility, with a sense of fairness and above all to be transparent, open and honest with all the people involved.

Was this truly an act of courage?  It didn’t feel like it at the time – I just thought it was the right thing to do.

But when I’ve relayed this story to other colleagues and teams over the last few years the most common responses I’ve received have been either “that’s so great” or “that was ballsy.”  You can probably guess which gender owns each response!

From your point of view, to what extent are Australia’s leaders leading with courage?

I am sure there are individual leaders who act every day with a sense of personal courage in what they say and do – across politics, business and other community segments.  From a cultural sense, I do think that being courageous is not respected or regarded as it once was.  The risks are deemed as being too significant against the potential rewards.

Overall, society has become more risk averse over the last 20 or so years.  At that same time the collective respect for leaders, their authority and power has been somewhat usurped by a citizenry much more sceptical, much more connected and much more focused on individualism as opposed to the societal ‘greater good.’ Combined, these factors make it very difficult to be successful and to be seen as being successful when acting with courage.

We live in a world where popularism, progressivism and conservatism are in deep competition with one another – there is no clear, widely accepted path forward.  These circumstances require courage in leadership – what we are getting, instead, is (at best) mediocrity and constant leadership change and (at worse) concentration of political power.

Having said that, I am optimistic about the human spirit and the determination of good people to achieve good things – we are already seeing this play out in the corporate world with many large companies being rebuked over their remuneration programs and in governments through the Royal Commissions into the Financial Industry, Aged Care & Child Abuse.

If you’d like to connect with Paul, he can be contacted via:

I met Paul some years ago while exploring what it meant to be an authentic leader.  At that time and since then, Paul has brought his authentic self to all I have observed of, and experienced with him.  He is truly husband, father, thinker, listener, mentor, observer and dog walker.


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