By Maire Simington, PhD

The word “courage” has so many meanings in the workplace. It can be the courage to create a new deal by the C-Suite amidst market uncertainty. It can mean courage of letting employees who no longer fit the organizational business model go, and it can also be the courage to walk away from an employer (downsized or not), to try a new adventure. All of these scenarios involve risk and there is a strong tie between risk and courage.

Courage has been a concept deep seated in time. Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees the others.” In other words, it enables all of our other human qualities – it is that important.

Kathleen Reardon writing for Harvard Business Review offers this definition of courage: “The U.S senator and onetime prisoner of war, John McCain, had defined courage as a brief, singular occurrence: ‘that rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve.’”

Why is courage so important in business and what does it entail? It entails overcoming fear and taking risks. As Susan Tardanico of Forbes notes, “Courageous leaders are in high demand and short supply these days.” She observes the lack of courage in today’s workplace, citing a report from Kenexa, a workforce planning firm, stating that “Workplace stress is at the highest levels in years, driven in large part by fear. In these situations, people tend to keep their heads down and their mouths shut in order to survive. This not only applies to the rank and file, but to management as well.”

She adds that courage requires bold moves, as well as guts and conviction. This often veers into the realm of ambiguity when not all of the answers are known or the outcome of a project or situation are unclear. The leader with courage steps forward, she says, “and sets a crucial example for others to follow at a time when they’d rather hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.”

Steve Tobak, writing for Inc.com notes several ways that leaders can demonstrate courage. These include:

• Follow your gut – Instincts are based on past experience and will most likely lead you to the right decision.
• Take big risks – Sometimes there is no safety net and it can be challenging – even scary.
• Give the straight facts – Sometimes this includes delivering bad news.
• Get out of your comfort zone – This can be challenging, but as Tobak notes, “Every time you face a fear, you build confidence and courage.”

For more information, please see these resources:

https://hbr.org/2007/01/courage-as-a-skill

https://www.forbes.com/sites/susantardanico/2013/01/15/10-traits-of-courageous-leaders/#4e64c8594fc0

https://www.inc.com/steve-tobak/the-most-important-leadership-attribute.html

Maire Simington, FACHE was formerly the director of care management services at Banner Health and now is faculty in the graduate healthcare program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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