More courage, less fear
More courage, less fear – From around the mid 70s to the mid 80s, I was part of the South African Defence Force, either in a National Service capacity or as a reservist. We were part of a huge initiative including many western nations, fighting back the MPLA (Marxist Peoples’ Liberation Army) of Angola, backed by heavy Russian military ordinance and some 60,000 Cuban troops in the very last of the Cold War battles on the African continent. As an infantry company commander I saw all sorts of things I would rather be able to forget, but one thing I saw again and again was COURAGE. It is always hugely inspiring when one sees men and women stepping forward and being prepared to put themselves literally in the line of fire for the sake of their comrades. Nothing sticks in the mind longer than these images of personal courage. But I also saw a few instances of what I have to call COWARDICE, whether caused by fear or self-interest, and these are things I would far rather forget.
What does this have to do with leadership today in organisational life? Well, I have observed over the last few decades, and especially in business life, leaders exhibiting admirable courage when making every effort to move their organisations forward. Sometimes it seemed almost like reckless risk-taking, at other times it seemed as if the change they were preaching was outlandishly crazy. But they persevered, sometimes at huge personal cost, and they succeeded. But unfortunately I have also seen a few examples of leadership cowardice, and I mean cowardice, not mere reluctance or conservatism. I have observed leaders lose everything, for themselves and their people, by simply not having the courage to make the right decisions and the right time. While I have some sympathy for them, I cannot excuse their actions, and I have told them so.
What do we mean when we speak of ‘courage’ in today’s workplace? There is a type of courage some call vital couragebut this is courage that helps to gain personal advantage (or even survival). I am referring more to what I call moral courage, which refers to defending one’s values and beliefs, and acting in a certain way because it is the RIGHT thing to do, in line with accepted norms.
And when is courage called for?
- It may be about re-assessing the beliefs, behaviours, assumptions and control issues that keep your organisation stuck in out-dated methods and operations. It always takes courage to suggest change, especially when that change is seen by many to be a threat. There is wisdom in the saying – People do not fear change; they fear loss. So when introducing any substantial change, we need to remember that inevitably someone will lose something – perceived status, current comfort, membership of a team, job title and so on. How do we help mitigate that loss, perceived or real?
- It may be about having the ability and willingness to confront fear, uncertainty or even intimidation, by having a deep knowledge of your own beliefs and insights. This kind of confident self-awareness is a fundamental part of successful leadership, especially authentic leadership.
- There’s a formula that goes like this:
Performance = Potential minus interference
The interference that so often gets in the way of performance is nothing less than fear or anxiety. The task of the leader is to drive performance, so part of that might be finding a way to en-courageteam members, by showing them that they have your confidence in them and that you stand by them.
When you join us for the “Power of 10” workshop, we will look specifically at the relationship between courage and decision-making
“Success or failure in business can often be measured by the degree of courage the leadership of the organisation invests in decision-making.”
If you look back at the road travelled by successful businesses you will likely find a history of courageous decision-making. Did all the decisions work? Absolutely not; but many did. On the other hand, if you delve into the decision-making processes of businesses that regularly struggle to survive or have failed, you will often find timidity, faintheartedness and denial in decision-making.
To many, the fear of failure and the stigma it brings on the decision-maker, is the primary reason they struggle with making decisions.
Making decisions is one of the most rewarding actions you can take as a business leader because it requires preparation, deciding, action, follow-up, and yes, courage. Courage is listed last, because courage comes from confidence, and confidence comes from having the right processes in place for decision-making. Yes, courage is dependent on confidence and confidence requires knowledge and knowledge requires a process.
Someone once said that the first indication others have that you might have leadership potential, is your willingness to make a decision. Maybe you have all the facts and maybe you don’t, but if you are able to quickly assess a situation and make a decision while others stand idle, you are light years ahead of the curve. That doesn’t mean you are going to make the right decision or that you have a full grasp of the situation. What sets you apart is the courage to make a decision. Once you have that going for you, it becomes a matter of refining and building your decision-making processes.
So here’s something you can think about as you prepare to join us on the workshop.
What kinds of decisions are keeping you awake at night?
What decisions do you wish you didn’t have to make at all, that someone else could make for you?
Please think carefully about this as we do want to be able to help you work through these decisions, so that (a) you find a way to address such decisions with more confidence and (b) you stop putting them off and leaving these important matters hanging in the air.
The chances are that it is exactly these specific, difficult decisions that are critical to moving your company ahead, so postponing them is not just holding you back, but may even derail any attempt to make real progress.
Written by Rob Gee | Senior Partner of The Living Leader | Power of 10