Cultivating workplace courage

After decades as a military officer, followed by decades in industry, I have often pondered the incongruity of clearly physically brave individuals who always lean towards safe choices in business and bureaucracies, seemingly lacking the courage to make the tough decisions.

Worthy of a read is Cultivating Everyday Courage (James R Detert, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 2018). He talks to workplace courage and of competently courageous people. Detert acknowledges, rightly, that one cannot always act courageously, and that timing and circumstance form a big part of deciding when to be courageous.

To lead requires the courage to make choices that will undoubtedly be challenged. A leader will take organisations in new directions – away from the traditional and normal, the safety of the past and the comfort of groupthink. Courageous actions will undoubtedly lead to comment and criticism – from politicians, auditors, executives, or the non-contributory and noisy group that always challenge change.

A courageous act is a worthy act is in the interest of someone else, not self-interest, despite the potential risk to oneself.

Unfortunately, bureaucracies tend to reward those who seek safety rather than those who are prepared to venture into unsafe territory. We don’t recommend gambling in business, but actions with managed and controlled risk. Relying on past practices isn’t going to resolve a problem for your organisation, after all it is the choices of the past that created the problem.

In our business we find three things make a great client: a problem worth addressing, resources to address it, and the courage to act. We can find two out of three easily, but for us deliver on our promise of delivering better outcomes by challenging the status quo, we need all three. It takes courage to ask for help, and with being uncomfortable on a journey along pathways not well trod.

If the options are without risk, there is no need for courage. Without courage there is no innovation, no change, no improvement.