Yet, what you’ll observe is that the people who make a mark in their careers are those who exhibit courage – a willingness to challenge the status quo and take risks with no guarantees of success.
Very early in my career, when I was working as an intern, I had the opportunity to work with a senior leader, who was respected and loved by his team. However, over the years as I observed his career unfold, I realized he was not growing; and, because of that, his team was also stagnating! At first, I didn’t understand how someone so intelligent, content-driven, and with an excellent pedigree could stop growing. Upon reflection, I realized it was because he lacked courage—to stand up for himself, for his team, and his organization.
There are points in your career, where you need to muster the courage and take a stand. You need to challenge the status quo. Only then will you grow—as a person and in your career, and so will the people around you.
When to bring Courage to the Party!
Let’s look at instances in our professional lives, where many of us lose out the opportunity to demonstrate courage.
1. Meetings (we attend so many of it 😊): So, you’re in a meeting (could be with your team, stakeholders, customers or your boss). If you believe strongly enough in a principle or your point of view, courage demands that you do not back down and be quiet. Do not compromise and proceed to share your views. The risk involved should be thought through and then use your judgment and the right tone to share your point of view. Always do it with the right intent and the people involved will understand. It is critical that you back your views with tangible facts and data. So, always arm yourself with them.
2. Crucial conversations or moments: All of us have faced tough situations or had tough conversations in the workplace. Do you let it bog you down? Or do you learn from the mistakes and adapt to jump over the hurdles? To get ahead, persevere when goals are not met or expectations fall short. After all, it is at such times that the courage to persist and to remain focused on the objective is essential.
3. Feedback Time: So, you have your appraisal. And your boss gives you feedback. Not all of it is going to sing your praises. Do you have the courage to take that feedback, truly introspect and then act on it? Or do you sulk about it?
The other aspect of feedback is; do you disagree with it? If you do, then you need to demonstrate the courage to stand up for yourself, and it is essential you do the same for your teams as well.
And if you are leading people, do you have the courage to challenge and tell them what they need to change? You will be blessed if you have a manager during your early years, who had the courage to tell you what you need to change. Actually, why only the early years? Throughout your career you need to be blessed to have leaders around you who are positively challenging you. Do we have the courage to hear this and act on it? Or do we get defensive?
4. Courage to take on more: As the adage goes ‘you reap what you sow’. To get that learning curve or a coveted opportunity you need to push the envelope. Do more than the bare minimum. You need to push through yourself through restrictive boundaries, to anticipate and deliver unmet or unrecognized needs of your stakeholders. Do you have the courage to do that?
You’ve got it!
The good news is everyone can have courage. During my many years of observing budding leaders grow into matured leaders, I’ve realized that courage is not a personality trait but a behavior that can be learned with effort and the right support.
Begin with baby steps and demonstrate courage in the decisions you make. The more you demonstrate courage, the more inherent a skill it becomes. Look up and find a mentor who can be your guide through this journey. It’s not always about the big decisions or the significant or defining actions but the courage we bring into every little decision or action we take. That is what builds the momentum and the character of the leader and the organization.
So whatever your context is, there is one thing you need to keep in mind while learning to bolster courage: to get it, you must start demonstrating it.
Are there instances where you took a decision which was right and not colored by fear? Or an instance where you spoke up when keeping mum or pushing back was the norm? Do share your experiences and views on how courage has played a significant role in your career journey.