Courage – heroic impulsiveness or calculated risk?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word COURAGE? A cartoon version of Super(wo)man saving the world? Someone jumping out of plan with a parachute strapped to their back? An executive making decisive decisions with authority? Or someone who asks you for help because they don’t have the solution?

It takes courage to do all of these things. Courage is not limited to heroic actions despite it being associated with those most of the time. It’s just as much about being vulnerable. The dictionary definition says that courage is ‘the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.’

Bravery shows up in all shapes and forms and has more to do with our behaviour and actions than who we are. Courage can be learned and is, in fact, one of the most important leadership skills in the workplace of the 21st Century.

“Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion no matter where it is exercised.” – Walt Disney

What does that mean for leadership?

We are seeing much flatter organisational structures these days with a move away from command and control to collaborative and empowering leadership styles. This results in more people naturally being in a leadership position required to make decisions -often bold or risky decisions. And that can be new or scary for people.

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be.” —Rosalynn Carter

An example:

I am working with an organisation in the consulting space and their mostly millennial-aged team has shifted to a purpose-inspired culture with an extremely flat hierarchy and complete flexibility of working from home or in the office. It took them a couple of years to embrace outcome driven results, but it has been a successful move and has hit the bottom line and improved the culture and retention. One of the biggest challenges for some of the new project and people leaders was having the courage to make decisions. And what was missing, was a process. They had to understand a plan and a process helps them to take a calculated risk rather having to rely on heroic impulses.

Here is my 6-step courageous decision process -remember this can be used for any decision, not just the big, world changing ones:

  1. Purpose. Ask yourself why you have to make the decision? What is the purpose of the decision? Does something need fixing, does something not feel right or is a move forward needed? It’s about getting clarity about the WHY.
  2. Assess the situation. Gather all necessary information and analyse the project or situation. Here you also want to weigh up the risks and the benefits. These two first steps will help you qualify the decision to be made and builds the foundation for the plan forward.
  3. Input. Good decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. Add to your information gathering by asking people for feedback, their opinions and input. Not only does that inform your decision, it also empowers your teams as they help making important decisions. And who is to say that you know it all?
  4. Select the right time. Whilst you want to stay away from heroic impulsiveness, you also don’t want to unnecessarily procrastinate. You might want to weigh up: is this an emergency or can I take my time for a more deliberate decision? If you feel like you are procrastinating, ask yourself the question: ‘What happens if I do nothing?’
  5. Confidence. Have the courage to make the decision with all the information at hand and be confident and believe that it is the right decision. Don’t start second-guessing the minute you have made the decision, it doesn’t help with your follow through or getting buy-in. This is especially important in a crisis! “Successful leaders have the courage to take action while others hesitate.” -John Maxwell.
  6. Contingency. Always have a ‘Plan B’. Have the confidence that you have made the right decision but keep on gathering information, feedback and experience and amend as you need.

Remember ‘Hope is not a plan’. We need to take ownership and have the courage to step in and make decisions. Using a process gives you the confidence to doing it well.

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Jessica Schubert

Jessica Schubert is a Leadership Expert, Executive Coach, Facilitator, Author and Speaker. She is obsessed with helping people realise their potential and unlock their inner genius.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Jessica has travelled the world and has spent more than 20 years leading cross-cultural teams in competitive markets throughout Europe and the Asia Pacific. As she worked with and coached her own diverse, cross-cultural teams, she came to realise that learning about yourself and developing interpersonal skills is the most powerful tool to lead and influence people around you.

In 2013 she launched Intact Teams, where she and her team have worked with thousands of leaders in organisations worldwide, delivering custom-designed leadership programs and workshops. These interactive and engaging programs are offered both virtually and in-person, helping leaders and their teams succeed in a complex and ever-changing business environment.

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Jessica Schubert