Talking courage with a Leadership Development, Resilience & Positive Education Consultant

(~5 minute read)

therese joyce sm-joycey-39

Therese Joyce helps people enjoy their work, with a focus on true engagement, people development, and productivity. Life is way too short to spend in a role where you are not learning new things, growing and making a positive difference.  She is currently looking for new adventures, new challenges and new opportunities to keep learning, be courageous and live a little closer to the edge.

Join us as Therese passionately shares her views, knowledge and experiences of courage.


How would you describe workplace courage?

Workplace courage means doing the right thing and speaking your truth even when it is difficult or challenging. There is a risk involved with being courageous.  If there is no risk, or no fear, then it doesn’t require courage. Sometimes this may mean rocking the boat and instigating change. Other times courage may require keeping your head down and persevering when others give up or take the easier route.  It can mean trying something new, admitting when you’re wrong, embracing your failures (and using them to improve and do better) or speaking up for or to others.

So many people fear change and prefer to continue with business as usual even when they know this isn’t producing the best outcome for staff, customers and clients, or helping develop an engaged, meaningful and productive workplace.

Courage combined with competence, compassion, ethical decision making and greater perspective is what leads to true transformation.

Disagreeing with accepted workplace assumptions, or with leadership, can mean we are opening ourselves up to being vulnerable. This takes an inner strength as we may feel we are risking our reputation, our job, or our relationships, however it also opens up opportunities for growth, learning and a new range of possibilities.

What does courage look like in your workplace?

Courage comes in many forms.  I have seen young children speaking up if they think someone is being unkind, just as I have seen staff demonstrate courage in standing up to a bullying colleague or manager.

Before I started at Peninsula Grammar, the school leadership team and Board took the courageous step in investing fully in Positive Education, committing to creating this position to lead the development of a scientific-based positive approach to strengths, emotional intelligence, self-regulation and resilience.

Through my consulting I’ve been privileged to work with leaders who are willing to step beyond their comfort zone and to demonstrate courage in learning new ways to work with their teams, to admit when they don’t know what comes next, to embrace the uncertainty of a new project or upcoming merger, and to move fully into the opportunity for professional growth.

Courage can be present in grand moments as well as tiny acts of change.

We don’t have to be courageous all the time, and through returning to the familiar we can build our capacity for courage. This is the equivalent of a rest day between gym work or training for a 5k, 10k or marathon, allowing our courage muscle to rest and revive.

Please describe 1-2 examples in which you have been courageous.  What did you do?  Who/what enabled you to be courageous?  What was the outcome?  

As School Director of EF Language Schools, the organisation’s modus operandi was to recruit excellent graduates, bubbling with potential and keen for experience.  These teams of new staff were hired in entry-level roles requiring flexibility, passion, commitment and the ability to work with students from over sixty countries.  At our international conference we were reminded that we were expected to produce excellent quality service with over 30% growth across the market, building on consecutive years of higher and higher numbers. The sales teams worldwide had done a brilliant job and it was now up to the operations departments around the world to ‘produce’ this promised experience of language learning, travel and adventure.  After some already tough years, it was understandable that many of the school staff were feeling under the pump, pressured and exhausted, and not really sure how to respond to these increasing expectations.

At that time, I had already made my decision to leave the following year, to undertake my Masters in London, and felt I had little to lose by standing up to our president on behalf of the 35 schools worldwide.  I explained that we couldn’t expect such young employees to give exceptional customer service based solely on their attitude and personality.  They would need training and an investment in their professional development, and it was up to us to help teach them what was expected, to learn how to do it, and then to keep them accountable along the way.

The president agreed and responded that since I was so determined this was needed, that I should do something about it.  Along with two other School Directors from the UK and Malta, and a Manager from our Swiss office, we created a comprehensive training in Customer Service Excellence that was based on the latest research, Fawlty Towers and a lot of fun. From there, Roger (the Maltese School Director) and I delivered this to all school staff in New York, Boston, Miami, Chicago, San Diego, Santa Barbara, LA, San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto.  I then flew on to Auckland, Sydney and Brisbane, while the two colleagues in Europe rolled this out across our European and Asian markets.

The courage to speak up and negotiate on behalf of thousands of 20-year-old staff around the world (“we’ll do a brilliant job, if you invest in training”) had resulted in the best ‘Farewell North America tour’ ever!

For my last six months at EF, my desktop was a photograph from National Geographic of a group of base jumpers in Yosemite National Park.  Leaping into the unknown seemed an apt metaphor for my decision to leave a wonderful, secure position where I was the boss, to become a full-time student at the age of 39.

therese j yosemite

Packing up my home, moving to a new continent, and shaking up my life and career without any real idea of what would come next was an exciting, nerve-racking and bold move which has already led to some excellent new adventures including stepping way out of my comfort zone, writing and performing a one-woman show in London, moving to Melbourne after 17 years away, finding the love of my life, getting married and relaunching my career.

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

From my perspective, courageous Australian leaders include people such as Kon Karapanagiotidis from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and former Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs, who dares women to ‘be a little vulgar’ and challenges men to move beyond their comfort zones.

Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of courage in our current political leaders and Australia’s shameful policies on human rights.

Political leadership should include the courage to stand up for the vulnerable and disenfranchised, and to demonstrate active compassion for others.

It was astonishing that our so-called leaders chose to spend over $80 million ($122 million?) on a plebiscite about same-sex marriage instead of having the courage to insist on marriage equality because it is the right thing to do. Our continued human rights violations regarding refugees, asylum seekers and offshore processing is horrifying and cowardly.

Australia is better than this. We are extremely fortunate to have space, peace, nature and resources. Instead of encouraging division and focussing on racial differences, we should understand that we are one human race, we have one planet, and we all gain so much more by working together for equity and justice.

It is outrageous that the same attitude of some Australians who reject asylum seekers, who think “we’re full,” and seem to call for a return to the days of the white Australia policy cannot see the hypocrisy in the reality that we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants, except for the indigenous Australians who face greater rates of incarceration and lower levels of wellbeing because of the policies and generational abuse imposed by European immigrants.

The second verse of our national anthem proudly states “For those who’ve come across the sea, we’ve boundless plains to share; With courage let us all combine to Advance Australia Fair.”

I hope that in our next election we see leaders with true courage, compassion and conviction to be an example for the world against injustice, to address the inequities faced by Indigenous Australians, to confront the challenges of domestic violence, climate change and mental health issues with strength, empathy and humanity.  This will require the courage to say no to the big money of corporations and industry and invest in the environment, new innovation and people, before it is too late.

If you would like to connect further with Therese, she can be contacted via:

Photo, Base jumping, Yosemite, by Lynsey Dyer

I first met Therese when she shared her knowledge and enthusiasm for understanding and working with strengths when I was studying MAPP.  Her signature strength of playfulness and humour was evident throughout our session, making it extremely engaging … in fact, her playfulness was contagious.  Therese absolutely lives her Twitter handle … she raises joy.


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