“It’s better to be a crystal to shine for a moment and risk getting shattered to bits than live a hundred years as a tile on a roof.”
— Chinese saying
During proactive times, learning leaders generally become advocates to the causes they deem critical and then design the objectives to achieve those goals, such as implementing knowledge transfer programs, pushing innovation and creativity or becoming a promoter for equality. In reactive crises—such as when strategic employees exit because a CEO is hired from “outside the industry” to replace the “old-timer” or when there’s an unforeseen takeover and the workforce scramble in uncertainty—denial seeps in to shut down the organization’s spirit. Mired in apathy, the employees stop looking within themselves for their sources of feeling dispirited.
You don’t have to be at spiritual odds to awaken your workforce to courage leadership. Extracting the gifts of courage gives the organization its life force. Deceptively simple, the overwhelming challenge lies in the CLO’s level of clarity about courage learning. One size of courage does not fit all. “Clarity may be the cousin to courage,” said Carol Alm, a business consultant.
Identifying the merits of courage leadership may initially jolt the workforce. Why? Generally, courage is associated with being a hero or doing something amazing. The human spirit has fallen asleep to “everyday courage.” Our culture misses opportunities at home and in school’s curriculum to teach courage applications. Educational training in courage skills for college and high school students transfer easily to work competences, but the wherewithal remains scant. “I am constantly looking for resources to increase confidence levels in students,” said Kasmin Boswell, Ph.D., a college professor. “Unfortunately, courage isn’t something that’s mandated in individuals’ lives. Without its acquisition, living is much more difficult.” She confronts her students to think about how they can most exponentially triumph over their past challenges, such as moving out of comfort within the norm to excel in their present growth opportunities.
The learning officer’s test is to awaken and unleash this forgotten energy (virtue in Latin, means “energy”), such as recognizing the “first red flag, eyes wide open” response rather than turning a blind eye. When you know something is tugging at your spirit to take action, why wait for three red flags? The “first red flag” insight is a difficult one to react to because you want to believe that what you know won’t prevail, such as when everyone but you receives a new Blackberry.
The learning officer’s job is to boost the workforce’s backbone, and self-esteem is one of those courage ingredients. When graduates close the door to numbers and letters of school grades, they step into a new phase of learning called “designing your resume.” Chances are, they will face their first courage experience that summons their self-esteem when a new project is launched and dynamic peers force them to be independent thinkers. Missteps perpetuate regrets. Lifelong learning builds character.
Courage dilemmas guised in a paradox can also be a pivotal opportunity to strengthen learning. Executive coach Megan Neyer, Ph.D., of Total Performance Systems recognizes the courage paradox dilemma when she observes a CEO juggling the challenge of day-to-day complexities between taking risks and achieving the vision. “Through mindful courage, the CEO can resolve this paradox by being realistic about the brutal facts while also having faith in the workforce’s productivity,” Neyer said. “Becoming stuck in one side or the other of the paradox (being too focused or foolhardy), the CEO will limit the range of available possibilities, and then, rigid thinking reigns.” When this happens, the organization’s heart constricts, limiting the opportunities for expansion.
Sony Corp. believes customers want choices, so it designs many options. Other organizations, such as 3M and Disney, instill daily “gray shade attributes” to seek and stimulate creative design. Creative people such as artists understand this abyss. They know inspiration hides in the paradox that the world is shades of gray, not black and white. Harold G. Nelson, Ph.D., president of Advanced Design Institute and an architect, focuses on intentional change in an unpredictable world by applying fundamental design competences. “Humans did not discover fire, they designed it,” he explained. Most likely, your workforce will judge your courageous deeds and evaluate them in an assortment of renditions. How does the learning officer lasso this abstract essence and design a blissful outcome?
When organizations opt to design a courageous culture they create a document called “The Declaration of Courageous Intention” (DCI). Designing your organization’s courage is the beginning of the end result. Once you start the design, it becomes your companion. As the size of your organization’s courage expands it turns into your sponsor for improvement.
Connecting the CLOs, vice presidents of learning and development and directors of corporate universities to their unique courage design and then merging those courage qualities with their workforce is elusive. Don’t seek fancy formulas or complex matrixes. Misty intangibles (soft skills), such as trust, courage or integrity, come in a variety of sizes. What a breeze if you could pick up a non-toxic courage spray bottle and spritz your reservations away. But, to some degree, everyone is courage-challenged.
Galileo said, “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” During your tenure as a learning leader, your type of courage learning probably resonates with being the conduit to the company’s success. Perhaps you are great at unfolding a plan. Leading workforce leaders to conquer their courage requires a practical stretch beyond business mechanics such as budgets, supply chains, human resources, limited resources, Six Sigma, marketing or milestones. These hard-skill abilities are great if merged with the spiritual moments that tap into the issues that reveal breakdowns in the human condition—the issues most difficult to express or pinpoint. These internal kernels might be an employee’s self-doubt, competitive nature (bordering dysfunctional) or “to the ninth degree” justifications. Desire for security is often the culprit that clips one’s courage.
Where to start the courage clarification process? Hire and support the people with leadership qualities defined by courage. For example, what right action for the right reason will your folks choose? Just as you strive to hire high performers who demonstrate elevated emotional intelligence (EQ), courage attributes are a critical component of the quotient. Your workforce probably identifies whistle-blowing as a current courage example. Once branded, courageous behaviors can be learned by everyone. There is a direct correlation between your success quotient and your courage quotient.
Genius in Gray Areas
Degussa is a German company highlighted in “Invest in a Courageous Culture” (Fast Company magazine, July 2003). “Degussa views bravery and audacity as essential corporate virtues, and it trains all of its managers to embrace those qualities: ‘Successful leaders in Degussa,’ the company asserts, must have ‘courage, determination, and strong backbone’.”
The courage to be bold and audacious counts on genius. Genius should not be confused with IQ (intelligence quotient). In “Power Versus Force,” David Hawkins, M.D., writes, “It would be more helpful to see genius as simply an extraordinary high degree of insight in a given human activity. …Genius can be more accurately identified by perseverance, courage, concentration, enormous drive and absolute integrity—talent alone is certainly not enough. Dedication of an unusual degree is required to achieve mastery. …One could say that genius is the capacity for an extraordinary degree of mastery in one’s calling. A formula followed by all geniuses, prominent or not, is: Do what you like to do best, and do it to the very best of your ability.”
How do you apply courage to design a genius environment? Help your workforce discover the resourcefully gray areas. They can do this by:
- Risking themselves: The size of their courage expands when they say “yes” to adversity (and failure).
- Being answerable for dysfunctional behavior: It’s unacceptable to violate the varieties of courage behavior that undermine the culture’s norm. (Don’t be deceived by denial.)
- Applauding the dignity to dare: Diminish the desire for security and invite the spirit to trust learning new possibilities.
- Recharging the organization’s heart and spirit through reflection: To discern the clarity of their voices, instill the value of contemplation—it leads to completeness.
- Celebrating all sizes of courage and diminishing regrets: Share examples of changed lives or create e-postcards that acknowledge each human being’s spirit at work. Applause in any form signals “where courage meets grace.”
Sandra Ford Walston is a leadership and management consultant, speaker, corporate trainer and Courage Coach, specializing in organizational behavior to advance results. She is also the author of “Courage.” Her second book, “Courage Goes to Work,” is due out next year. Walston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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