Professional courage—taking action in the face of fear or uncertainty in order to achieve goals or tasks—is a trait common among successful individuals and organizations. Tracy Brower, Ph.D. describes it in Be Brave as taking the form of any or all of the following: “Stand With… Stand Up… Stand For… Stand Down… [and/or] Still Standing.” As we enter 2023, I would argue professional courage is more important than ever.
Why is Courage Important?
Courage enables individuals as well as organizations to:
- take calculated risks,
- face and overcome challenges, and
- stand up for beliefs, especially in the face of opposition.
In addition, Brower points out that “Your own happiness and fulfillment are significantly affected by courage. When you act in alignment with your values, you tend to be happier and more satisfied—so the courage to stand up for what you believe is worth cultivating… When you do the right thing, the positive effects are likely to impact not just you, but others around you and this can build relationships and contribute to the broader community.”
Benjamin Laker takes it one step further in How To Develop Courageous And Compassionate Leadership. He argues that when courage is combined with compassion, leaders are more likely to be trusted: “you enable others to become vulnerable with you, sharing their concerns as well as their successes. They feel safe to disclose where they are stuck as well as where they are exceeding expectations.“
So, what happens when there is an absence or lack of professional courage? It can lead to:
- missed opportunities,
- failure to adapt to changing landscapes, and
- compromised values.
Courage is a Skill to be Honed
Professional courage is not an innate quality. As Kathleen K. Reardon explains in Courage as a Skill, this type of courage is “a skill acquired through decision-making processes that improve with practice. In other words, great business leaders teach themselves to make high-risk decisions.”
I agree with Brower, who counsels professionals to: “First, know yourself… Also know your limits… Know the situation… Know your options… Know others.“
With a clear understanding of your strengths,the possibilities, and limitations of the situation, you are ready for what Reardon calls the ‘Courage Calculation’:
- Set primary and secondary goals;
- Determine the importance of achieving them;
- Tip the power balance in your favor;
- Weigh risks against benefits;
- Select the proper time for action; and
- Develop contingency plans.
Unforeseen developments have characterized the past several years as we have adapted to the unpredictable. The global pandemic has tested our resilience, and we have been forced to re-evaluate our business practices and explore novel technological advancements. Despite the persistent state of ambiguity in 2023, visionary, courageous leaders are determined to mitigate uncertainty through decisive action. These leaders cultivate an environment of progress by promoting innovation and elevating employee morale, thereby driving advancement and bolstering confidence.