Becoming More Courageous in This Crisis

4 Skills to Grow Your Courage

jackie freiberg

“If fear is contagious, courage is contagious as well! Leaders choose to spread courage, not fear.”

This pandemic is a macro test of our collective ability to be courageous. For many of us, panic, fear, anxiety and a sense of dread rule the day. We’re told the economic fallout will be unprecedented, meaning every business, every leader and every one of us will be tested.

There is no question we’ve all been thrust outside the comfort zone—this is uncomfortable, it’s uncertain, it’s risky, we all feel exposed and vulnerable. These unprecedented times call for a fearless mindset.

Remember… in the uncertainty and disruption, we all have a choice. We can hunker down, take orders and wait this out, or we can embrace the suck, be courageous, pivot and do our part in rising strong.

For those of you who want to rise strong, here are four strategies for becoming more courageous at work and in life.

Courage. It is admired in every great leader, and every great leader wishes they had more of it in their people.

Bottom line, it’s those brave souls who are willing to embrace risk, solicit feedback, model accountability and drive change, who will create courageous workplaces in which innovation and creativity are the norms, not the exception. In fact, most failure in leadership is a failure of nerve — a lack of courage.

Here’s the good news. Becoming a courageous leader is doable. It requires mastering four skills:

  1. Rumbling with risk
  2. Living your values
  3. Growing trust
  4. Rising strong together

1. Rumbling with risk

Courage is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. Courage calls us to embrace risk, uncertainty and exposure. Rumbling with risk is about exercising our courage muscles to individually and collectively tackle difficult issues and solve problems that matter. It’s about leaning into that which has been disrupted, tabooed, held at bay, ignored, put on hold or feared.

There is NO courage without vulnerability. Courage-building is a journey that teaches you to choose courage over comfort. It is a learned practice of discomfort and involves embracing the suck by rumbling with vulnerability instead of running from it or holding it a bay. Courage is about noticing. Noticing the problems, the disruptions, the possibility and then asking,

“How can I show up to serve people, serve the project or serve this problem (disruption, challenge)?”

Courage calls us to hold people accountable for what matters. It empowers us to engage in tough and truthful conversations and to share feedback as a gift, not a weapon. Courage invites us to push back respectfully or even disagree. When managed effectively, the creative rumble of an honest give and take leads to better solutions faster.

What should you do? 

First, understand how you typically respond to uncertainty and risk. Do you flee, freeze or fight? Identify a difficult issue you have been avoiding. Consider it your call to courage. This is your chance to modify the playbook and write a new draft with courage as your superpower. Think back to a time when you lacked the nerve to do what was right. Let this reflection embolden you to rumble with the uncertainty, assess your options, check your fear against reality and then daringly do what needs to be done, even if it is uncomfortable. Remember, courage is a learned practice of discomfort.

2. Live your values

Would you rather be comfortable living in a lie or uncomfortable living in your truth? Values give us the courage to live more consistently in our truth.

Courage means we don’t just profess values; we practice them. We know our values and live them, even when it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable. Brave people aren’t silent. They do not willfully turn a blind eye to issues that challenge their values. When there is a disconnect between the values we espouse and the values we practice, our integrity suffers and hypocrisy surges.

Most companies have values, yet only about 10% of them have operationalized their values into teachable and measurable behaviors. Values become practical (lived out loud) when operationalized into practices and behaviors that serve as accountability measures. When values become measurable, they create guides for our actions and serve as boundaries for making better decisions.

What should you do?

What do you value most in life? This is not a rhetorical question, it’s deep and difficult and worthy of an answer.

Whether you’re a business leader or an individual on a journey of personal development, ask, “What are my top two values (avoid more than 4)?” Or ask, “What are the top guiding principles I want to guide my actions, choices and decisions?”

And then ask, “Have I/we done the hard work of defining what these values look like when lived out loud? What 2-3 behaviors demonstrate each value?”

Accountability requires clarity, and it takes courage to hold ourselves accountable to living and leading consistently within our values.

3. Grow trust

It is all too common during times of crisis and change to demand trust from others by issuing statements such as “Trust me on this!” But trust cannot be summoned with a command and you cannot legislate trust. Trust must be earned—incrementally, over time, and often by small and consistent gestures of genuine interest and care.

Trust is not soft, nor is it a secondary competency. Trust is essential to leadership and living a more fulfilling life. Trust is fundamental to healthy connection, engaged teams and high performing workplaces. Trust is the one thing that influences everything—it is the basis for connection, collaboration and contribution.

When trust is high, we hold each other accountable by elevating one another, not by punishing, blaming or shaming each other. Bottom line, trust makes it safe for us to connect deeply, improve our impact, challenge the status quo, rumble with risk, grow stronger and create improvements.

To create deeper connections and more engaged, high performing teams, trust is not a nice to have; trust is a requirement. Consider a marble jar as a useful metaphor for building trust. Every small gesture of care and interest earns you a marble of trust in the relationship. But beware. Any time someone undercuts, shames, bullies, betrays or dismisses a colleague, friend or family member, it bruises, even blows trust; in those cases, it’s not just one marble lost–it’s a handful.

Deep and meaningful relationships, as well as high performing workplaces, are grounded and guided by courageous people. And courageous people live their values, align around a clear vision and work together to build a strong foundation of trust.

What should you do?

Ask the people you live and work with, “What are your marbles? What builds trust for you and what blows trust for you?” Then ask yourself, “How full is our marble jar?”

You can also ask, “What do you need as individual or incremental gestures of care, celebration, connection and/or support?” Having this conversation signals the importance of trust. Having it often has the potential to build trust, not blow trust.

4. Rise strong together

Have you ever encountered a toxic person or a verbal bully in the workplace? It’s surprising how often people turn a blind eye to these behaviors and allow the toxic behavior to dominate the conversation or take over the meeting. It’s interesting how our personal choices can become team or family norms.

Why? Because fear is contagious. No one wants to be the one who shuts it down. Calling it out is risky, so it’s easier and perhaps even safer to ignore it. Recently this happened to one of us during a meeting. One woman became confrontational, aggressive and dismissive by noting she violently disagreed with a comment. Other people in the meeting shut down, but she did not, she continued to dominate and bulldoze the conversation. Her behavior stalled progress and demoralized team chemistry.

If fear is contagious, courage is contagious as well. Courage calls people to choose courage over comfort by calmly and respectfully letting a verbal bully know the negative impact of their tone, words and style. We handled it and called her out, “Sandra, I need to understand why you ‘violently disagree with me.’ I’m not sure what you disagree with, and your tone and word choice shut the team down and stalled our progress.” Was it easy to redirect the conversation? No, it was risky, it was uncertain. Yet, in the end, Sandra admitted she was unaware of the negative impact of her language and tone, she even admitted ‘violently agreeing and violently disagreeing’ have become normalized responses, and she was willing to change. We were able to move forward with greater awareness, professionalism and civility. Courage is what allowed us to rise strong together and create more productive group norms.

No question, it’s risky to engage in difficult conversations and it’s vulnerable to speak the truth and call out a bully, a lie or a problem. You choose—comfort or courage?

When we dare to rise strong, others join and together we can embrace the suck and take on the difficult. Courage is about leaning into vulnerability by demonstrating it first and setting a new standard. When you drop your guard and ditch your armor, your example encourages others to ditch and drop too. You create the freedom and safety to rise strong together. When enough people do this, a courageous culture develops.

Courage is a personal and collective superpower. Why? Because it’s rare and hard to emulate. Self-help books, products, services and business models are relatively easy to replicate. But cracking the code to courage is far more difficult, if not impossible. When courage becomes the expectation, you create a serious competitive advantage to your personal and professional brand.

WARNING!

Courage building is a journey, and you cannot do courage without being vulnerable. Yet, the myths of vulnerability tend to outweigh the benefits of vulnerability. So, beware, vulnerability is riddled with predispositions; it is not okay to start requiring people to be vulnerable to fit in or hang with you.

We’ve witnessed relationships and workplaces where people have tried to mandate vulnerability. It became a new trend and requirement for true connection and/or for rising to the next level of leadership. People were expected to step into the arena and expose kryptonite—their flaws and inadequacies.

Courage and vulnerability were used as justifications to call people out publicly. And instead of rising strong, people felt shamed and embarrassed; careers stalled, risk-taking, trust and engagement tanked while politicking, fawning and judgment peaked. This misuse of courage and vulnerability is why it’s best to work with a certified facilitator to lead you and/or your team’s discussions and development.

In rising strong together, “together” is the operative word. We take risks, rumble with uncertainty and embrace the suck together. Volumes have been written about the preconditions for growth, managing change and rising out of crisis. One of those preconditions is courage—a will, a choice to rumble with risk, live our values out loud, do the hard work of building trust and rise strong together to accomplish extraordinary things.

If you want to accomplish the difficult and do the extraordinary, then an essential superpower you can develop in yourself and model for others is to rise strong by growing your courage skills individually and together.