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Lion's Den: create a courage-building environment.

Workplaces are full of "comfeartable" employees--workers who are too comfortable or fearful to take initiative, trust others or talk openly and honestly, said Bill Treasurer, MS, founder and chief encouragement officer, Giant Leap Consulting, Asheville, NC.

Employees are often afraid to deviate from their comfort zone due to fear of failure, being manipulated, retribution, change, not being liked or being wrong. "At the root of these fears is the possibility that something could die: the death of a project, goal, career path, job function, promotion opportunity, upper management position or some other cherished intention," explained Don Schmincke, BS, MA, founder, The SAGA Leadership Institute, Baltimore, MD.

But what would happen if everyone stopped offering ideas, expressing opinions and suggesting strategies? "Innovation--and with that success as a company--would stop dead in its tracks," said Leila Bulling Towne, MA, Executive Coach & Organizational Development Consultant, The Bulling Towne Group, LLC, San Francisco, CA.

Why You Need Courageous Employees

Oftentimes, Bulling Towne said, "Managers lose track of the fact that their title, role or office means they accomplish work through others, not themselves. Managers aren't doers or employees. Instead, they are responsible for guiding their team members to complete tasks effectively in a regular and timely matter."

"As a manager, your success and satisfaction depends upon your employees," Treasurer said.

"Ultimately," Schmincke noted, "This is because a manager's value is based upon how his or her direct reports perform."

Building Courage

In the workplace, courage isn't bravery or having the guts to do something. Courageous employees have overcome fears of rejection and failure, Bulling Towne said. They make conscious decisions about what they say and to whom they say it. They are cognizant of using courage. They give fair, accurate feedback freely. They share their opinions and why they feel a certain way. And, most critically, they aren't afraid to abandon a stance when it becomes unpopular; they continue to lobby for a cause or project because they feel doing so will help the team, division and company succeed.

So how can you manage employees' comfort and fear and help them to become courageous? According to Treasurer, 10 ways to achieve this are:

1. Go first. Be a courageous role model. Jump first and workers are more likely to follow your lead.

2. Provide a view. Forget the canned corporate vision statement. Provide a "view"--a smaller, more personalized vision--to help employees see their own big picture and how, at an individual level, their courage will be rewarded.

3. Set up safety nets. Most people won't take a chance without some degree of support. Create safety nets-from protecting jobs to preserving reputations--to reinforce courageous actions.

4. Give permission. Many workers think they aren't allowed to do courageous things. Make it loud and clear that people have permission to go for it.

5. Value good mistakes. Making no mistakes is just as dangerous as making too many. Let employees know that you value good mistakes--strong effort, weak results--and they'll most likely step out of their comfort zone.

6. Cover their backs. People want to know that you've got their back. Show them you do by going to bat for them--consistently and courageously--with higher-ups.

7. Normalize fear. Fear is a normal part of the work experience. Help workers see their doubts and fears as natural occurrences and they can refocus their energy to the job at hand.

8. Modulate comfort. Adjust employees' comfort and discomfort with incrementally greater challenges. You'll steadily stretch their capacity to deal with uncomfortable situations and exert more courage.

9. Ask the holy question. Find out what really matters to people by asking: What do you want? Only then can you give them personally meaningful assignments worth stretching for. People won't take a chance without some degree of support.

10. Clarify courage. You can't be courageous unless you're afraid. Remind workers that courage isn't the absence of fear, but an ability to carry on in its presence.


Win with a Courageous Workforce

With less fear and more courage, workers will take on harder projects, deal better with change and start speaking up on important issues. "The company and the boss benefit and, in boosting their own performance, employees do, too," Treasurer said. Building a winning workforce, however, requires both will and skill. Managers must understand three specific types of courage and learn how to develop them in workers.

1. Try courage (taking action)

To get people to step up to the plate, employ "try courage," i.e., the courage of initiative and action. With try courage, employees have the guts to take the lead and do something new--even attempt a "first." They welcome challenges, stretch their skills and make things happen--all with little or no hand holding. To help workers develop try courage:

* Emphasize the risks of not risking. The risk of inaction is usually more perilous than the risk of action. When assigning tough tasks, emphasize the dangers of not taking the risk, including a potential hit to employees' personal and career development or, worst-case scenario, their job security.

* Play to their strengths. Build on employees' existing strengths and capabilities when giving them a risky new task or project. It's easier to be courageous with even a little experience on a big task.

* Give them something to prove. Provide challenges that cause people to prove themselves to themselves. When the going gets rough, having something to prove can be a source of energy and motivation.

2. Trust courage (relinquishing control)

Want people to give others the benefit of the doubt? Trust courage--the courage of confidence in others--is the answer. With trust courage, employees let go of their need to control situations or outcomes and, instead, put their faith in those around them. They are open to direction and change, and don't waste time questioning motives or looking for hidden agendas. To help workers develop trust courage:

* Trust first. Resist the temptation to turn trust into a quid pro quo--I will give you trust after you give me trust--and end up producing a stalemate in which nobody trusts anyone. Trust first--period.

* Build "instant trust." With the right conditions, trust can be gained surprisingly quickly. Create a trusting environment by establishing ground rules with employees on issues such as keeping confidences, respecting others and fostering true professionalism.

* Know the criteria. Get to know people--who they are and what they value--and find out the criteria by which they give their trust. Ask each person on your team to complete the statement: I will trust you when ...

3. Tell courage (speaking out)

Want people to speak their minds? Tell courage--the courage of voice--is the answer. With tell courage, employees engage others with candor and conviction. They raise difficult issues, provide tough feedback and share unpopular opinions. To help workers develop tell courage:

* Encourage precision. To be most effective, tell courage requires thought and precision. Ask workers to know--in exact terms--what they want to say and what they hope to achieve.

* Take action. Employees get frustrated--rightfully so-- when they muster up the courage to speak up, only to have it fall on deaf ears. Respect and reinforce tell courage by taking swift and sure action on what people say.

* Be careful what you wish for. As a manager, you may think you want workers to have more tell courage. But when they start speaking out, you may think otherwise. Commit yourself to listening to what people have to say--no matter how hard it is to hear--and refrain from responding rashly or defensively. Have the courage to be told to!

Lions at Work

Ultimately, a courageous worker will take on more challenging and complex projects; seek opportunities to stretch their skills and capabilities; speak up more frequently and forcefully; respond to company changes with more ease and enthusiasm; and demonstrate more confidence, commitment and creativity. Take these action steps to transform your workplace into a den of lions and ensure your success as a manager.

Additional Reading

Schmincke, D., Warner, C. High Altitude Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2008.

Treasurer, B. Courage Goes to Work. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler. 2008.

From Cub to Lion: Grow into a courageous leader

Dramatic events reveal a leader's mettle. Do we respond to storms with courage and conviction? Or do we get hysterical and start looking around for someone to blame, or worse, to victimize?

"Some people will let their dark side take over, while others will rise above the stress of hard times," says Mike Staver, CEO, The Staver Group, Fernandina Beach, FL. "Crises bring our courage, or lack thereof, out into the open. But it's what we do during the calm that determines how we'll act during the storm."

Courage is not a quality that you're born with or not. It can be developed and nurtured. "If you commit to leading with courage, and work toward that goal every day in every decision you make and every action you take, you'll be able to do the right thing when the inevitable storm hits your company," Staver said.

According to Staver, the path to courageous leadership has six components. They can be summed up using the acronym "ATTACK":

A: Accept Your Current Circumstances. Most leaders either overestimate or underestimate the health of their current culture. As a leader, you need to look reality in the face and accept it. However, this does not mean you should settle. Accepting that you have a less than ideal corporate culture is the first step toward changing that culture for the better. Ask yourself this question: What are you pretending not to know?

T: Take Responsibility. A courageous leader is willing to own the results of his or her choices. Don't blame outside conditions for circumstances inside your culture. As a leader, they're your responsibility. That doesn't mean every problem your company has is your fault. But if you fail to do anything about it, that is your fault. Responsibility is not about blame; it is about response.

T: Take Action. You are never going to have all the data necessary to make the kinds of decisions you need to make as a leader. You have to act in spite of that fact. And even if you do have the data, you must be courageous enough not to feel that you have to have every "T" crossed and every "I" dotted before you pull the trigger. Just make sure every action you take is in line with where your heart is, where your values are and where your culture is--or more accurately, where you want your culture to be in the future. Analyze the pitfalls and act quickly.

A: Acknowledge Progress. Many leaders are so goal-oriented that they can't really see the individual steps of the process. Determine the desirable results, determine the benchmarks and be certain that those benchmarks are acknowledged and celebrated when they are achieved. Celebrate them with the same energy and enthusiasm as you would if the goal were already accomplished.

C: Commit to Lifelong Learning. If you are leading, you're learning. If you're not learning, you're not leading, regardless of your title. Many executives get into a leadership role and have the sense that they have arrived. That's the death knell for leadership success. You must commit yourself to learning on three levels: learn about yourself first, your people second and your industry third. The extent to which you do these things, in that order, is the extent to which you're going to exhibit courage.

K: Kindle Relationships. Courageous leaders are constantly developing people, engaging with people and caring about people's progress. Courageous leadership requires toughening your approach, confronting people, challenging people and not letting them get away with being less than you know they can be.

To determine how courageous you are, visit and take the Leadership Courage Quotient (LCQ) Assessment.

--Compiled by Karen Appold

Karen Appold is an editorial consultant based in Royersford, PA. Visit her Web site at
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Author:Appold, Karen
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Date:Mar 1, 2009
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