When I was learning how to lead in the Marine Corps, I was presented with portraits of courage about leaders who’d sacrifice their lives for the safety and security of their colleagues, for their mission.
Now, as the co-founder of Lead Star and author of the business book SPARK, I often get asked to speak to groups on courage in the workplace. Obviously, the context business leaders are in is quite different from the military environment I was trained in. Yet, courage in the workplace can still happen – and I’d argue that it needs to happen now more than ever.
This past year, especially, has placed demands on business leaders that seemed inconceivable two years ago: transitioning workforces to virtual environments, dealing with un-planned disruptions, consistent rounds of layoffs, upset forecasts, and decision-making amidst tremendous uncertainty. We need courageous leaders during these times who can bravely and confidently go into the unknown. While these leaders may never experience the need for physical courage, here are four types of courage they can leverage to continuously level up :
1. Managerial Courage
When organizations are created, there’s an org chart that’s quick to follow. Every single box on it represents someone with the title “Manager” who, ultimately, is responsible for making sure that things get done: budgets met, processes ensured, and goals aligned. Simple enough, right? Well, add humans to the mix. When individuals get put into managerial positions, sometimes they’re not prepared to do the work of managers: set clear expectations, enforce standards, and hold people accountable for their performance. Managerial courage is having hard, uncomfortable conversations when it comes to people challenges. It’s telling an individual, even if they’re really nice, that they’re not achieving their potential. It’s having to let a toxic coworker go, even if they’re brilliant and possess knowledge that no one else in the business has. Courageous managers are those who dare to do what’s right for the business and the culture, even if it’s not the most popular or positive action to take.
2. Intellectual Courage
There comes a time in everyone’s career where they develop confidence in thinking for themselves and have an opinion of what’s right/what must be done. Demonstrating intellectual courage is a challenging feat for many because it means suspending your thoughts and opinions and being open to the viewpoints of others – regardless of who or where they come from – to get to the best solution. It’s an acknowledgment that despite what you know, you may not know everything, and not having the answers is okay. This can be uncomfortable in our society, where we applaud those for always being “right.” Demonstrating intellectual courage begins with being insanely curious about what you don’t know and accepting the opinions and ideas of others. It can be reflected in the statement, “I don’t really know; what do you think?” and being open to what others have to say.
3. Moral Courage
You’ve likely heard integrity described as doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. This is often easier said than done. There are many times when doing the right thing can be uncomfortable and unpopular; it can even put you in a disadvantage. Having moral courage can mean refusing to engage in workplace gossip and confronting those who do. It can mean letting your best, most favored team member go because they failed to follow the most critical of all safety protocols. It can also require assuming the blame for your team’s poor performance, even if you’re not the reason results weren’t met. We need morally courageous leaders in our business. They set a high, powerful standard for others to follow.
4. Social Courage
The fourth aspect of courage needed is related to social courage, which means being authentically you. There are many times in our lives when we feel pressure to conform. Yet, when we assimilate, we shape-shift into a watered-down version of ourselves and lose our voice, that thing that makes us unique. We find ourselves doing the popular “thing” or participating in groupthink. What makes us leaders are our personal qualities, characteristics, and attributes. Those should never be muted. We need to lean into them to share our important point of view. Just think: the ideas you originate could be the ones that lead to breakthroughs for your organization. Having the moxie to articulate them, even when they run contrary to dominant thought, can help you distinguish your value to your team.
Courage comes in many shapes and forms. When leaders intentionally build these four aspects of courage, they enhance the contributions to whatever team they’re a part of. What’s more, their confidence in their own leadership ability begins to increase.