Last week I had the good fortune to attend a truly inspiring business forum about unleashing our potential. In amongst all of the learning there was one theme that seemed to underpin many of the speaker’s presentations – courage. Courage to not only step up to the challenge or think more creatively, but more critically to step out of the way of ourselves.
When facing big decisions, new challenges or a changed environment, the saying ‘we are our own worst enemies’ often rings true for many of us. At the heart of it is fear – fear of failure, fear of what others think, fear of not being good enough. The expectations, limitations and fears that circle in our minds so often stop us maximizing not only our current opportunity but also our true capability.
Changing career paths, relocating countries and regions, taking on a bigger or more diverse role, proposing new ways of doing business, voicing an opinion that is not shared by the consensus all requires a high degree of internal strength, conviction and courage. For many of us it means shaking off the age-old thinking that the best way to succeed is to keep your head down, fly under the radar, play it safe and don’t make too much noise.
How ironic is it that what we want from our leaders is almost the exact opposite. We want and expect our leaders to stand up and voice opinions, propose new ideas, create new environments, demonstrate progression and generate high levels of engagement. We want them to stand behind what we believe to be the right decision and not just do things right. Courage is an inherent trait amongst great leaders and it is why we admire them so much.
The good news is that courage isn’t just available for a select few but for all of us. It isn’t a skill but a decision. It is the decision and ability to move ahead in the presence of fear and not as many say in the absence of fear. It’s a mindset and it can be learnt.
So how do we overcome our fears and learn to live and lead with greater courage? In between many useful reminders, tips and strategies last week, there were a few that stood out that I believe we should strive to embrace:
Create an environment that supports courage and learning: If we think about a child learning to walk and the environment in which they learn to do this, they are invariably in a room full of people that are encouraging every effort made. Real dangers are removed and risks to ‘step out’ are encouraged. The adults and older children are cheering every step they take, not every time they fall over. They aren’t saying ‘well you’ve fallen over three times now, we better seek some professional help’.
Surround yourself with other courageous thinkers, doers and advocates: So often when we are driving significant change or introducing new concepts, the critics appear to have the loudest voices. Knowing who your key influencers and advocates are is critical to building effective frameworks of support. Your trusted advisors will be able to offer insight, constructive feedback and advice to help you not only maintain courage but also influence.
Gain some perspective: Ask yourself ‘what is the worst thing that can happen?’ If it turns out that your idea / comment / view is rejected you will be remembered as someone who was at least prepared to offer a contribution. When we risk our own contribution for fear of not fitting in, it is often the disappointment in ourselves that remains long after the situation has ended.
Lose the perfectionist tag: Perfectionism is the equivalent of paralysis. It creates unwarranted stress, crushes creativity, prevents productivity and ultimately limits profitability. It often also prevents true connections with others around us being formed.
Be assured that the fire will come – Be ready for it: You can be guaranteed that when you attempt something new, there will be challenges and hurdles to overcome. When we know that they are part of the experience, they lose their power to hurt us personally, but instead become merely a part of the problem solving process.
Connect: No one can do it alone! Confidence is infectious. When you surround yourself with other like-minded and courageous individuals it not only helps you overcome your doubts and lingering fears but also helps you impart confidence to those that you are looking to influence.
It takes courage to challenge the norm, to make a tough decision, to answer the critics, to stand up for those who can’t stand for themselves, to not allow failures and disappointments deter you from your course, to be vulnerable and allow others the space to also be vulnerable. It takes courage to lead both your teams and businesses through periods of great uncertainty and remain true to your path.
Leaders who consistently demonstrate courage will stand apart from the masses and earn the trust and loyalty of those that they lead.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts below.