“It is not only the most difficult thing to know oneself, but the most inconvenient one, too.” – H.W. Shaw
Most people have differing opinions about who has courage and how they acquired it. Is it learned or innate? Do you maneuver in and out depending on the circumstance at stake, or can you keep advancing your level of courage consciousness? The learning officer’s viewpoint matters.
“Much of my life, I thought you were either courageous or you weren’t. But, courage is being displayed everywhere, and one-size courage does not fit all,” said John Jackson, associate professor of marketing and strategic management at Central Queensland University in Australia. He highlighted several other courage distinctions displayed by famous and everyday people.
“Mother Theresa had the courage to work for many years with the poor of India in what most people would regard as a hopeless, no-win situation,” Jackson explained. “Nelson Mandela had the courage to take on the apartheid system, but not to renounce armed resistance. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King had the courage to champion and live non-violent resistance. Winston Churchill had the courage to do whatever it took to rid the world of Hitler and Nazism (or as a historian friend of mine put it, ‘Only a bastard as big as Churchill could have defeated a bastard as bad as Hitler.’) My good friend David had the courage to retire at 35 years of age to devote himself ‘to the Divine.’ My dad’s nickname at school was ‘Chokey Jackson’ because he had the courage to put so much into the 400-meter run that he would choke from exhaustion. Later on in life he took on the role of running an orphanage in Africa.”
Courage is generally associated with being a hero. This naturally negates the deeds of the learning officer’s workforce. “I am no hero,” Jackson said. “Most of the time, my most courageous act at work is to champion peace and harmony. But as Aristotle would remind us, virtue—in this instance—is finding the balance between being a strong peacemaker and being a strong pushover.” If you have inklings about how to dial into your courage, great! That’s the first step. The learning curve escalates when you become adept at extracting the courage varieties permeating your environment and then honoring them.
Courage Consciousness: What Step Are You On?
How are you courage-challenged? Identify your courage to determine what step are you on. In Figure 1, Courage Consciousness, you have the opportunity to confront and conquer the behaviors on each step.
Figure 1: Courage Consciousness
“I never think of myself as courageous, nor would I describe myself as such.”
“I’m no ‘hero’!”
“I don’t give much thought to the word.”
– Living in denial and/or blame (denial is saying no to courage).
– Feeling that you’ve never done anything courageous you do not associate yourself with this virtue.
– Avoiding unpleasant truths (I don’t want to know what I know).
“I know I am unhappy, but I am the breadwinner. I do what I have to do.”
“It’s hard to change, but I know I should. I keep trying.”
– Staying stuck in your scripts.
– Identifying with the attachments to your scripts. You recognize the same ol’ stories, but stay stuck on the same step.
– Unwilling to embrace discipline.
“I know I’ve been complaining a long time about this matter, but I’m soooo busy.”
“I will step up and face this situation as soon as I…”
“Things are so crazy right now I don’t know my head from my feet.”
– Relying on your suitcase of reasons that keep you from taking action until your life turns upside down, such as with illness or job loss.
– Putting reality on hold in favor of hiding out: your job (routine/assignment/etc.) is more important than your own life.
– Facing your life and sensing the times you sold your soul.
“I know I swallowed my voice during that last staff meeting. I am not going to do that again.”
“I never thought of myself as having courage, but I recognize it in other everyday people. Maybe I have been courageous and I forgot.”
“I notice when I fall back into my old ways.”
– Embracing the nuances of the word “courage” digging a little deeper.
– Taking action to confront oneself and declare a courageous intention (the act of consent).
– Becoming a witness to feeling dispirited, you say “Enough is enough!” You begin to awaken your courage and identify your actions as significant. After all, it’s your life, your destiny.
– Giving yourself permission to claim your courage and accepting that your life will change.
“I don’t stay very long anymore in situations that don’t make me happy. Life is too short and denial causes me unnecessary suffering.”
“Absolutely, I have courage. Every time I follow my heart I am being true to myself. When I die I don’t want to be filled with regrets.”
– Recognizing how long you stay stuck on the step, you draw from your acknowledged reservoir of courage and take ownership.
– ‘Faking it’ is over you now proactively practice this energy (virtue in Latin, means “energy”), edit your actions and hold yourself 100% accountable.
– Participating actively in the dismantling of old behaviors (scripts).
– Inviting new possibilities.
– Finding joy in the present (not living in the past) and embracing a simpler life.
– Being a model of courage, you
en-courage others and give them permission to affirm courage for themselves.
Teaching the Attributes of Courage
Ask your employees a few important questions:
- How do you perceive you bring your courage to work and demonstrate it for others to validate?
- How is the larger organization designed to support your courage beliefs?
- Where are the breakdowns within the organization that reveal lost courage (dispirited)?
- What internal scripts play when you are challenged at work, and what is the difference when you are deeply engaged in your passion (spirited)?
- Do you believe your learning officer attempts to understand how your courage is uniquely wired and what you may need to boost its size?
As the learning officer, based on the above feedback, ask yourself these four questions:
- What can be done to teach how my workforce/organization demonstrates courage?
- What programs or coaching does my workforce need to ensure that their courage develops?
- What regrets (lost courage) would I like to do over, and what is the theme or pattern to those misfortunes?
- What courageous acts will my peers and workforce celebrate and remember (noble legacy) when I transition out?
The work environment is riddled with uncomfortable and challenging issues. In the midst of all the required tasks plus last-minute scrambles, how can the learning officer flush out individual courage so that the organization surges in fluid courage? Ask and listen and you shall receive:
- En-courage feedback. It takes courage to learn from others’ perspectives. To reverse employees who are risk-averse or too shy to speak up wholeheartedly, embrace ongoing interactive dialogue through storytelling and establish a time for regular follow-up (then, celebrate those steps in advancement).
- Acknowledge the power of honesty. Jackson mentioned a passage from The Way of Transformation: “The woman or man who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers her refuge and comfort and encourages her old self to survive. Rather, she will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help her to risk herself, so that she may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it, this making of it a raft that leads to the far shore.”
- Confront your limitations and seek personal accountability.
- Be proactive. “True courage is not measured by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart.” (This sentence was on a flag draped on a building at Ground Zero in New York).
- Cross-check to review how you’re doing with your own courage context and courage quotient.
A portal to your heart opens when you strive for the best outcome. Why? The heart matures during different stages of courage development. Revelation allows you to be more self-conscious. Consciousness thrives in contemplation. Contemplation centers you in silence. Silence breeds insight. Insights augment learning.
Cultivate Courage Initiators
Learning organizations commit and recommit themselves to their workforce to form productive and accountable relationships. Identifying setbacks provides one opportunity to identify patterns along with honoring each stage of courage recognition. Courage evolves through openly inviting and boldly seeking its cultivation. (In Part 1, this is referred to as “Genius in Gray Areas.”) Monitor your organization’s recognition of these courage initiators and verify whether you:
- Face the facts: Denial is saying “no” to courage.
- Quickly take action: Swift to review worst-case scenarios.
- Keep stepping up: Always move forward.
- Know the value of sacrifice and discipline: Specifically declare your intent about what you want to happen.
- Value “courageous will”: If there’s a will, there’s a way.
- Ask for the tough projects (the ones no one wants): An esteem that allows you to take on a high-learning-curve project or high-risk management aptitude.
- Troubleshooting abilities: Invite positive dissent.
- Express views in a timely manner: Sensitivity to introverts/extraverts.
This process not only reveals the truth about your workforce, it also eliminates unwanted debris such as undermining scripts that stall progress.
One day’s courage often predicts the next day’s expansion in creativity, inspiration, dedication, deeper engagement to the task, intensity, innovation and the willingness to share insights. Models of individual courage give others permission to grow. No longer immune to its energy, courage deposits allow your heart to exhibit genius.
“The challenge,” said Lou Marines, president of Advanced Management Institute, “is to move beyond the sometimes archaic and pedestrian thinking represented by such items as business myths and anecdotal observations that pass for wisdom.” Courage leadership emerges naturally when human spirits come from their hearts not their heads. These authentic moments reveal the truth about learning and growing.
Sandra Ford Walston is a leadership and management consultant, speaker, corporate trainer and Courage Coach, specializing in organizational behavior to advance results. She can be reached at email@example.com.