(~5 minute read.)
My is purpose to open doors – these may be doors that we have intentionally and firmly shut in our past, doors that we have wandered past and not noticed, or doors in our future. In my consulting practice, I invite people to courageously open these doors and to explore and honour what’s on the other side. Today, the door I invite you to open is the door that explores courage – in the workplace and also, courage that may be required today in these unprecedented, challenging times.
However, before you continue reading, I invite you to ask yourself – why is courage important to you? Why are you reading this blog? What do you need to be courageous about, either in your workplace, at home or in your community?
There are a number of social issues that impact all of us – homelessness, mental health, climate change, our carbon footprint – some of these issues impact some of us more closely than others. Right now, a societal issue that is impacting all of us is the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, you may* need to be courageous to:
- Express how you feel about the impact of COVID-19
- Continue to self-isolate when others around you may be easing up on restrictions
- Have a tough conversation with a child or an aging parent who may still not understand the current situation
- Express that it is difficult to see the opportunity and to be motivated everyday
- Disagree with a dear friend whose opinions and actions are contrary to your own at this time
Thinking of our workplaces today, you may* need courage to:
- Insist on continuing to work from home, even if your workplace continues to remain open or is about to re-open
- Trust that your working-from-home team is still being productive
- Connect with colleagues who don’t seem to need to connect as often as you
- Decide to what extent you will “pivot” (or not)
- Accept that you are doing the best you can in the current situation
Further instances in which you may* need courage in the workplace – whether today or in future – include giving feedback, and being clear on your expectations about equity – whether this is about recognition, promotion, or a pay increase. You may* need courage to ask for help. Brené Brown’s research with 150 c-suite leaders uncovered that leaders will delegate critical work to those who have asked for help in the past, because they trust that these same people will ask for help again should they need, if they are stretched too far. You may* need courage to ask for a performance review; to express a mental health need; to ask for a career break; to make the decision to not be tied to a role that doesn’t enable you to be your best self; to own your strengths and what you have to offer your role, your team and your workplace.
Image: Charlie Mackesy,
“The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse.”
This may* seem overwhelming and fearful, and we can still choose to be courageous when experiencing these emotions. Brené Brown’s research with 150 c-suite leaders has identified that it’s not unusual to feel both courageous and fearful at the same time.
* It is important to realise that courage is subjective. What one person deems to be a courageous act, another may not, and vice versa. Actions for which one person requires courage, another may not, and vice versa.
I invite you to ask yourself – why is courage important to you? Why are you reading this blog? What do you need to be courageous about, either in your workplace, at home or in your community?
The benefits of courage
So, what do we get in return for being courageous? A review of the literature shows that for individuals, courage is associated with increased positive energy and self-confidence, and improved motivation; increased accountability, resourcefulness and goal attainment; greater empathy, conscientiousness and prosocial orientation. We know that we are inspired to courage by observing the courageous acts of others and upon reflecting on our own courageous acts. There is a direct correlation between demonstrating courage and our psychological wellbeing. As Robert Biswas-Diener says, “Courage enables individuals to live a full life.”
For our workplaces, the benefits of courage include improved leadership performance, increased business results and increased workplace integrity.
What is courage?
There are many definitions of courage, which can be sourced as far back as the time of Aristotle, and later, Thomas Aquinas. Definitions of courage have changed over time as society has valued different notions of courage.
There are three different types of courage:
- Physical courage
- Vital courage
- Moral courage
Physical courage is the behaviour demonstrated when we put our physicality at risk, often motivated by upholding the values of society. We are witnessing examples of physical courage now as our health care professionals are doing all they can to restore the health of those infected with COVID-19. We are witnessing the physical courage of those health care professionals who are coming out of retirement to help this same fight; of teachers who are continuing to teach in the classroom; and of various employees who are ensuring we are able to access needed services.
Vital courage is the perseverance demonstrated through a disability or illness in face of an uncertain outcome. An example of vital courage is that shown by the person persevering with treatment for cancer when the outcome may be uncertain.
Moral courage is standing up for one’s authentic beliefs and values in the face of disapproval or rejection. Examples of moral courage include the whistle-blower; the person who stands up to bullying; the person who votes against the majority.
My own definition of workplace courage— 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 a workplace issue—combines general definitions of courage with those aimed at the workplace and comes from my desire to make courage more tangible and pragmatic for workplaces.
Strategies and skills to build courage
Reflection and planning. A key word in the above definition of workplace courage is intentionalwhich requires reflection and planning. This reflection and planning is designed to guide you to critically assess your goals to ensure that these are not harmful to you or others. This will also help you manage potential fear and assess the degree of associated risk before embarking on the courageous action.
When reflecting, you are invited to consider the following three questions:
- To what extent is this action worthwhile?
- To what extent is this action risky?
- To what extent are you willing to take this action? (Pozzo & Kern)
This pause will help you decide on the best course of action to take, and will help you to stay in courage rather than potentially tip into recklessness or cowardice.
We know that we are inspired to courage by observing the courageous acts of others and upon reflecting on our own courageous acts.
Further reflection: My Courageous Self. We know that we are inspired to courage on reflecting on our own courageous acts of the past. Based on neuroscience, we also know that our brain collects evidence about our experiences and stores this information to be accessed and used for future experiences. Based on this knowledge, I have developed an appreciative reflection exercise designed to explore a past courageous act so that you may be inspired to future courageous actions. This reflection exercise can be found here.
Four key skills. Brené Brown has identified four teachable, observable and measurable skills for building courage. A very brief summary of each of these skills follows:
- Rumbling with vulnerability: Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage; without vulnerability there is no courage.Simply, vulnerability is the emotion we feel during times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Vulnerability is the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome.
- Living into your values: A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important.Living our values means we don’t just profess them, we live them; we walk our talk. We care that our words, behaviors and thoughts align with our values.
- BRAVING trust: Trust is such an inspiring characteristic and also, somewhat mysterious.Brené’s work has made trust accessible and pragmatic. Her research has identified 7 key elements of trust, resulting in the acronym BRAVING which stands for boundaries, reliability, accountability, (the) vault, integrity, non-judgement, generosity.
- Learning to rise: This is the ability to get up after falling.It is about teaching resilience before the fall. Research shows that leaders who build resilience as part of their development are more likely to engage in courageous behaviour because they know how to get back up should they fall.
Further information and a number of tools and resources can be found here.
“We all have courage within …
we just need a light shone on it.”
I invite you to reconsider your response to my question in the second paragraph – why are you reading this article? Why do you need courage? I encourage you to identify your call to courage and commit to one courageous act that you will put into place as a result of reading this article.
As we know, we are inspired to courage on hearing the courageous acts of others. We are keen to hear of your courageous acts and, with your permission, would be honoured to share these with others so that we continue to build a courageous world. We would love to hear from you.
P.S. If you’d like further inspiration to be courageous, have a look at this 2-minute clip.