The Three Types of Workplace Courage

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Three Types of Workplace Courage

COURAGE IS THE FIRST VIRTUE of organizational performance. Consider, for example, all the other concepts that courage connects to in workplace settings. Leadership takes courage because it requires making bold decisions that some people won’t agree with or support. Innovation takes courage because it requires creating ideas that are ground-breaking and tradition-defying; great ideas always start out as blasphemy! And sales always take courage because it requires knocking on the doors of prospects over and over in the face of rejection. These aspects of work simply can’t exist in the absence of courage.

That’s why it’s crucial to instill courage in those you lead, both in their development and training programs, but also by leading by example. There’s a lot you can do as a leader toward this end: rewarding jumping first, creating safety nets to make trying and failing a palatable option, teaching to harness fear, and modulating comfort levels are all management tools for setting a foundation that supports and encourages courageous behavior. But while courage in the abstract is an easy thing to get behind, in practice it’s more useful to break it down into different types of courage. Having a way of categorizing courageous behavior allows you to pinpoint the exact type of courage that each individual worker may be most in need of building.

I think of courage as falling into three distinct buckets: TRY, TRUST, and TELL Courage. Let’s talk about each.

TRY Courage

The first bucket of courage is TRY Courage. TRY Courage is the courage of action. It is the courage of initiative. TRY Courage requires you to exert energy in order to overcome inertia. Certainly, it is easier not to do something than to do it, which is one reason why many people prefer to stay in their “comfort zones.” It takes courage to TRY something, particularly when you’ve not done it before. This is the kind of courage that’s demonstrated when someone “steps up to the plate,” for example, taking on a project on which others have failed. You experience your TRY Courage whenever you must attempt something for the very first time, as when you cross over a threshold that other people may have already crossed over.

The courage of try is associated with:

  • “Stepping up to the plate,” such as volunteering for a leadership role.
  • First attempts; for example, the first time you lead an important strategic initiative for the company.
  • Pioneering efforts, such as leading an initiative that your organization has never done before.
  • Taking action.

All courage buckets come with a risk, and the risk is what causes people to avoid behaving with courage. The risk associated with TRY Courage is that your courageous actions may harm you, and, perhaps more importantly, other people. If you act on the risk and wipe out, not only are you likely to be hurt, but you could also potentially harm those around you. It is the risk of harming yourself or others that most commonly causes people to avoid exercising their TRY Courage.

TRUST Courage

TRUST Courage involves resisting the temptation to control other people. Unlike TRY Courage, TRUST Courage is not about action. Instead it often involves inaction, or “letting go” of the need to control. With TRUST Courage, you step back and follow the lead of others. A common example of TRUST Courage is delegation. TRUST Courage is very hard for people who tend to be controlling and those who have been burned by trusting people in the past. TRUST Courage, though, is a crucial element in building strong bonds between people.

The courage of trust is associated with:

  • Releasing control, such as delegating a task without hovering over the person to whom you’ve delegated.
  • Following the lead of others, such as letting a direct report facilitate your meeting.
  • Presuming positive intentions and giving team members the benefit of the doubt.

TRUST Courage, of course, comes with a risk. The risk associated with TRUST Courage isn’t that you will harm other people, but that by trusting them, they might harm you. By trusting others, you open yourself up to the possibility of your trust being misused. Thus, many people, especially those who have been betrayed in the past, find offering people trust very difficult. For them, entrusting others is an act of courage.

TELL Courage

The third bucket of courage is TELL Courage, which is the courage of voice. TELL Courage is what is needed to tell the truth, regardless of how difficult that truth may be for others to hear. It is the courage to not bite your tongue when you feel strongly about something. Brown-nosing and people pleasing are symptoms of low TELL Courage. TELL Courage requires independence of thought. We also use our TELL Courage when we take responsibility for a mistake or offer an apology. Whenever we speak up and say what’s hard to say, whether it be speaking truth to power, admitting a mistake, or saying “I’m sorry,” we are using TELL Courage.

The courage of TELL is associated with:

  • Speaking up and asserting yourself when you feel strongly about an issue.
  • Telling the truth, regardless of where the person to whom you are telling the truth resides in the organizational hierarchy, such as presenting an idea to your boss’s boss.
  • Using constructive confrontation, such as providing difficult feedback to a peer, direct report, or boss.
  • Admitting mistakes and saying, “I am sorry.”

TELL Courage can be scary and comes with risks too. We avoid using TELL Courage because we don’t want to offend others and fear being cast out of the group. The need for affiliation with those we work with is very strong, and the risk of TELL Courage is that, by speaking up and asserting ourselves, we will be cast out of the group and won’t “belong” anymore.

Courage is Contagious

Understanding (and influencing) courageous behavior requires that you be well versed in the different ways that people behave when their courage is activated. By acting in a way that demonstrates these different types of courage, and by fostering an environment that encourages them, you can make your company culture a courageous one where employees innovate and grow both personally and professionally. Here’s a handy diagram to remind you of these types of courage and what they require:

Courage is Contagious

 

 

 

Solving the Decision Bottleneck In Two Essential (But Not So Easy) Steps

Solving the Decision Bottleneck In Two Essential (But Not So Easy) Steps

Imagine a single organization from the perspective of two different cultures: Culture Accountability and Culture Bottleneck.

In Culture A (Accountability), things get done quickly and efficiently. Executive teams are cohesive and managers know what is expected. As a result, managers run a tight ship and are quick to course-correct any activity, behavior or process that doesn’t align with the shared mission and vision. Managers are confident that their decisions will be supported by the executive team. Conversations, both vertical and horizontal, are focused on both process and people; results and relationships. Those who do not fit the culture leave on their own accord.

In Culture B (Bottleneck), bottlenecks create frustration. Decisions seem to be an afterthought and lack of trust precedes the need to micromanage. Managers fear making decisions because their decisions are often overridden. Executives complain that their managers never get the job done. On the front lines, turf wars and internal drama erupt spontaneously. Uncertainty, unexpected change and chaos color the culture. Conversations are avoided and poor performance is justified until something major happens and firing is the only option.

“At most organizations, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle.”– Peter Drucker

All other things considered, there are two components that distinguish Culture A from Culture B: Clarity and Communication.

1. Clarity: How and who makes decisions

In every single instance of time-wasting drama, no matter how it manifests, at the root is a lack of clarity in some form.

On the front lines, when employees are unclear about what success looks like, they lose confidence and waste productive hours getting reassurance and clarification — procrastinating when uncertain. At the highest level, lack of clarity about the real problem or the desired end result wastes time and resources hiring vendors and consultants offering “one and done” workshops or other ineffective solutions.

Even when there is clarity about the real problem, the end result and the process, a big road-block I often see is the lack of clarity about who is in charge and how decisions are made.

For context, let me share a quick example. Years ago I was on a project for a mid-sized corporation. My inside contact, a high-level director, had absolutely no power to push the project forward. Because of this fact, any work I did had to be approved by the top executive who would continuously change calendar dates and, in doing so, would “delegate” the date changing to the director, who had to navigate calendars and multiple dates. I estimate we wasted at least 40 productive hours chasing down the real decision maker to make a change instead of setting up one phone call.

Increasing clarity inevitably increases your productivity and speed. Here are some suggestions for increasing speed by increasing decision-making clarity.

What to start doing

  1. After identifying the real problem and the desired outcome, take the necessary time to agree on how decisions will be made among top executives. Whether you are a co-owner or a team of C-suite executives, your organization’s success and your peace of mind is dependent upon your maturity to clarify your decision-making processes.
  2. Have a plan in place to maximize efficiency and decision making for those times when change happens.
  3. Give real decision-making authority to those to whom you delegate power.

What to stop doing

  1. Stop going rogue on your senior partners. Before you make a major decision, get alignment from your executive team.
  2. Stop delegating when delegation creates a bottleneck. Instead, hire an assistant to do the grunt work and let your director-level people get their own work done.
  3. Stop complaining about your employees and team members. If you find yourself complaining, set a time on the calendar to confront the issue with the person (or people) who needs to hear the conversation.

2. Communicate: Initiate clear conversations

The number-one problem I see that slows progress and efficiency is the inability or unwillingness of leaders to initiate what I call executive conversations. Executive conversations (as I define them) are both results- and relationship-oriented.

Many drama-laden cultures adopt an either-or mentality: a mindset that it’s all about results — anything for a profit, or it’s all about relationships — avoiding conflict at all costs. Both mindsets create accountability-related issues.

In his bestselling book, Advantage, Patrick Lencioni says:

“Many leaders struggle with accountability but don’t know it. Some will tell me that since they aren’t afraid to fire people, they must not have an accountability problem. Of course, this is misguided. Firing someone is not necessarily a sign of accountability, but is often the last act of cowardice for a leader who doesn’t know how or isn’t willing to hold people accountable. At its core, accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction which may not be pleasant.“

When there is a lack of accountability there is a lack of alignment, and when there’s a lack of alignment there’s a need for executive conversations.

What to start doing

  1. Increase your awareness of what is happening that should not be happening, and articulate it.
  2. Ask for the behavior or action you want directly and succinctly without blame.
  3. Keep the overall good of the organization in mind when you address the issue.
  4. State how the problem you perceive affects the revenues, productivity, team, client satisfaction or any other business case.

What to stop doing

  1. Stop holding grudges and realize that a grudge is a sure sign of a conversation that needs to happen.
  2. Get coaching support to learn how to initiate conversations that get results instead of resentment.
  3. Stop firing people before you’ve had the courage to have a couple of conversations. If you communicate effectively, they will either improve with some coaching, or they will eliminate themselves when they see they can’t cut the mustard. The good news is they will probably leave on friendly terms.

Conclusion

There are many factors that shape culture; however, it’s up to the senior leaders to eliminate the time-wasting bottlenecks that contribute to high-drama cultures. Get clear on the real problem and the desired end result. Clarify who is in charge and how decisions are made. Initiate executive conversations that are both relationship- and results-oriented to transform the Bottleneck Culture into a Culture of Accountability.