Over the years I have found and seen in others that courage is easy to talk about: put into corporate “core values,” notice when someone does a courageous act, proclaim it as key to leadership. We inherently know that even the smallest acts of courage cause an enormous, positive ripple effect to ourselves, others, places of work and more practically, our careers.
But, those acts are really hard, big or small. A close work friend and mentor summed it up well, “Conscience is a good reason to be courageous. Often underused, precisely because people need a paycheck.”
In other words, there are both perceived and real consequences to being courageous, and thus, a process to think through them will help educate when you need to be courageous and where you can let it go. Trade offs are a reality for everyone.
There are obvious areas to act courageously. Such as, blatantly ethical issues and bullying (not just at school, but also on the playground that is corporate America). However, where and when to act courageously is as unique to each person as a fingerprint. Additionally, it’s often the more insidious, subtle situations in our day-to-day lives where being courageous can make a difference, but often it’s easier to just vent to a trusted friend.
For credibility sake, I am a recovering “say nothing” person and finally vowed for my own well being to speak up when a situation called for it years ago. Like any practiced effort, it’s gotten easier over the years, due to three consistent realizations:
- 100% of the time, the outcome was easier and better than I had imagined in my head. Put more simply, I was always glad I did it.
- The self-doubt, “Maybe it’s just me who feels this way” that prevented me from speaking up before was wrong. More people than not likely share similar sentiments about the situation.
- Overcoming fear is just part of the process, no matter how many times you act courageously.
If you’re like me and regularly find opportunities where you wish you could be more courageous, try this process.
5 steps for acting courageously:
Step 1: Zing! You tense up, you want to call your trusted friend, “You won’t believe THIS one.” Whenever a situation hits that certain something inside you, ask why: have you been bothered by this same or a similar situation in the past? If so, it likely won’t go away. Validate these jolts to your nervous system by tying them to a tangible core value for your yourself. “This is particularly irksome to me because I believe in doing things honestly and this behavior is getting us off track.” Or, “This really bothers me because it makes me feel unvalued.” Take your situation and start it with, “This really bothers me because I believe or makes me feel…..” This exercise is important for self-awareness and maturity, and you’ll need it if you take action.
Step 2: Tell yourself, “If I feel this way, likely others do, too.” Taking action will inspire others.
Step 3: Ask yourself the following questions, and run it by a trusted friend:
- How and when should I act?
- What’s the worse thing that could happen?
- What do I hope to gain from acting?
Sit with that for a day or two. Wait to see what comes to you — creative solutions will appear in due time. Confronting people directly is best, but not always possible. Next in line is confiding in someone you trust, who can actually do something about the situation.
Step 4: Develop a plan, but stay open — there is no perfect way to approach these issues. The previous step isn’t just about deciding what to do, it’s also about building confidence and a comfort level with taking action.
Step 5: Act! Don’t worry about this going perfectly. Ironically, the more uncomfortable you seem to the person or group, the more comfortable you make it for them. Sticking to a format like the below will help with the inevitable discomfort:
- Start with something positive. “We’ve really worked well together in the past,” or “I’m proud of how much progress we’re making toward X,” etc.
- Lead with facts, and follow with the impact to you or the organization. “X incident on X date both was not a good reflection of our unit’s core values, it was also disengaging to me, personally.”
- If you have a role in this issue, now is the time to own it. “I know I should have said something sooner” or, “I know my reaction to these issues could have been better in the past.”
- Next, throw the “Hail Mary.” Put on the listening ears and see where it goes. Remain factual and confident you will positively resolve the situation.
- Conclude with “thank you” or, “what can I do to help?” Humility does wonders for the success of courageous acts.
What were your memorable moments of courage? Did anything help you through the process?
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – The Diary of Anais Nin, edited by Gunther Stuhlmann