By Susan Cain
When Yves Biggoer-Burger was in the second grade, he witnessed a group of peers teasing an overweight girl. Drawing himself up to his full 8-year-old height, he stood by her side and said:
“Guys, she might be bigger than you, but she’s definitely not as stupid.”
The boys slunk away, shame-faced.
Many of us can remember times in our childhood—and our adulthood too—when we would have liked to act as bravely as Yves. But we couldn’t muster the courage. Maybe we weren’t lion-hearted or quick-witted enough. Maybe we thought that courage belongs to an elect class of noble souls and daredevils and not for the likes of us.
I have felt all of these things.
But this is a mistake not only for those who might benefit from our courage but also for our very own selves. Courage helps us grow and give. And it’s available to us all.
This post is not about how to take monumentally brave actions, like Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani education activist who was shot for her efforts, or like a firefighter rushing into a burning building. It is instead about understanding what courage really is and training ourselves to perform small, daily acts of bravery.
- Courage means being afraid and acting anyway, not that you’d know this from looking around at our culture, which celebrates fearlessness. (There are over 50 books titled Fearless on Amazon as of this writing.) If you tend to be fearful, you probably assume that you’re not courageous. Courage researchers Cynthia Pury and Charles Starkey reviewed the citations for valor of 74 recipients of the Carnegie Medal for heroic actions and found not a single mention of the words fear, afraid, or worried. This isn’t surprising; the psychologist Avril Thorne found that listeners embrace traumatic stories emphasizing bravery or compassion, but not ones focusing on fear or sadness. Yet, we all know that fear is a universally powerful emotion, and we all know how terrible terror feels. Thus, we should grasp that feeling afraid and acting anyway is a form of nobility.
- Courage is a habit, a muscle you can exercise. Most of us aren’t born courageous, so we shouldn’t expect to magically acquire it without practice. As Brene Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, “Courage is…a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.”
Get in the habit of deciding what you think about things and speaking from that place of conviction. Practice saying what you think about small, inconsequential things: pleasantly, politely—but firmly.
- Notice every time you do something that you’re scared to do—something your body is telling you not to do. You’ll start to realize that you do these things all the time. You’re already much braver than you think. This is particularly true of shy people for whom daily life requires them to smile in the face of fear. Here is one of my favorite quotes, by Charles Darwin: “A shy man no doubt dreads the notice of strangers, but can hardly be said to be afraid of them. He may be as bold as a hero in battle, and yet have no self-confidence about trifles in the presence of strangers.”
- Focus on the people or cause you’re standing up for. It’s easier to be courageous on behalf of others than it is for your own sake. Here is one of my favorite examples: a fellow Princeton grad named John Burford, who rushed a fraternity, was horrified by its dangerous hazing practices and wrote a letter to the school paper describing his experiences. It was a hugely courageous act. At the time, all of Burford’s friends were members of the college Greek system. But he focused not on the risk to his own social standing but on the safety of future students: “Ultimately,” he explained, “what I wasn’t OK with was the possibility of being remembered…as ‘that guy who knew what fraternities at Princeton did, and could have spoken up, and then somebody died because of his fucking cowardice.’”
- Find courage in numbers. It’s much easier to act in the company of even one other person who feels the way you do. The hardest thing in the world is to dissent solo. Sometimes, you’ll have to go it alone, of course. But often, this isn’t necessary.
- Learn to attend to positive signals and to discount negative ones. Many of us have a “negativity bias” that causes us to pay more attention to disapproval than to positive reinforcement. Be aware of this, and gently steer your mind to positive stimuli. When I first started my public speaking career, I tended to focus on whichever audience member had the most disgruntled expression on her face. These days, though I still hope to please everyone, I’m much more attuned to those who seem happy to be there.
- Find role models of quietly courageous people. I’m a huge believer in the power of role models for just about anything you hope to do or become. When you’re trying to stretch yourself beyond your apparent limits, there’s a part of you that wonders whether it can actually be done. A role model is a constant reminder that the answer is yes. Channel that person until it feels natural to channel your very own self. And if you don’t have a role model handy, try Miep Gies, the quiet and ordinary woman who sheltered Anne Frank in her attic for two years. “I don’t want to be considered a hero,” said Gies. “Imagine [if] young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty. I am afraid nobody would ever help other people, because who is a hero? I was not. I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary.”
It was exactly Gies’ ordinariness that made her courage all the more noteworthy and attainable for us all.
How about you? Do you think of yourself as courageous? Do you agree that courage means being afraid and acting anyway? What acts of courage inspire you most?
Quotes and exercises to help you be your best and bravest self.
Courage is something that everybody wants—an attribute of good character that makes us worthy of respect. From the Bible to fairy tales; ancient myths to Hollywood movies, our culture is rich with exemplary tales of bravery and self-sacrifice for the greater good. From the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz who finds the courage to face the witch, to David battling Goliath in the Bible, to Star Wars and Harry Potter, children are raised on a diet of heroic and inspirational tales.
Yet courage is not just physical bravery. History books tell colorful tales of social activists, such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, who chose to speak out against injustice at great personal risk. Entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs and Walt Disney, who took financial risks to follow their dreams and innovate, are like modern-day knights, exemplifying the rewards and public accolades that courage can bring.
There are different types of courage, ranging from physical strength and endurance to mental stamina and innovation. The below quotes demonstrate six different ways in which we define courage. Which are most relevant to you? In the last section, i present an exercise to help you define and harness your own courage.
1. Feeling Fear Yet Choosing to Act
“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.” —George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
“Fear and courage are brothers.” —Proverb
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” —Nelson Mandela
“There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.” —L.Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
“Being terrified but going ahead and doing what must be done—that’s courage. The one who feels no fear is a fool, and the one who lets fear rule him is a coward.” —Piers Anthony
“Courage is about doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared. Have the courage to act instead of react.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes
2. Following Your Heart
“Passion is what drives us crazy, what makes us do extraordinary things, to discover, to challenge ourselves. Passion is and should always be the heart of courage.” —Midori Komatsu
“And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” —Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005
“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” —Soren Kierkegaard
“It takes courage. to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” —Marianne Williamson, “Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of ‘A Course in Miracles'”
3. Persevering in the Face of Adversity
“When we are afraid, we ought not to occupy ourselves with endeavoring to prove that there is no danger, but in strengthening ourselves to go on in spite of the danger.” —Mark Rutherford
“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
“Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.” —Orison Swett Marden (1850-1924)
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.'” —Mary Anne Radmacher
“’Go back?’ he thought. ‘No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!’ So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” —J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” —Mark Twain
4. Standing Up For What Is Right
“Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself.” —N.D. Wilson, Dandelion Fire
“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” —Maggie Kuhn, social activist
“From caring comes courage.” —Lao Tzu
“Anger is the prelude to courage.” —Eric Hoffer
5. Expanding Your Horizons; Letting Go of the Familiar
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” —Lord Chesterfield
“This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.” —Robert F. Kennedy
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” —Anais Nin
6. Facing Suffering With Dignity or Faith
“There is no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bear witness that a man has the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.” —Viktor Frankl
“The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.” —Aristotle
“Until the day of his death, no man can be sure of his courage.” —Jean Anoulh
“A man of courage is also full of faith.” —Marcus Tullius Cicero
For this exercise, you will need a notebook and pen, as well as a quiet, uninterrupted space in which you can reflect. Beginning with the first definition of courage—”feeling afraid yet choosing to act”—answer the following questions:
Think of a situation as an adult when you felt afraid, yet chose to face your fear.
- What did you observe, think, and feel at the time? (e.g., “I saw the rollercoaster and felt butterflies in my stomach”)
- What did you or the people around you say, think, and do to help you face your fear? (e.g., “I told myself that if little kids could go on it, so could I”)
- At what point did your fear start to go down? How did you feel afterwards?
- Now, think back on a situation in childhood in which you faced your fear. How was it the same or different than the first situation?
- Finally, think of a situation you are currently facing that creates fear or anxiety. What are you most afraid of? (e.g., being fired if I ask my boss for a raise)
- Now, is there a way to apply the same skills you used in the two earlier situations to be more courageous this situation? Remind yourself that you have these skills and have used them successfully in the past. What mental or environmental barriers stand in the way of using these skills? How can you cope with or get rid of these barriers?
Repeat this exercise over the course of a week, using each definition of courage above. On Day 7, come up with your own definition of courage that is most meaningful to you and repeat the whole exercise using this definition.
Follow Melanie on Twitter @drmelanieg
I talk to and coach lots of people and the most common thing that gets in peoples way of success is fear. Most of us have a little voice. He sits on your shoulder and whispers is our ear.
Just wait. give it time.
I’m not so sure about that?
And my favorite. I wouldn’t do that if I was you!
We often let fear dictate our decisions. However, living a courageous life is one of the best ways to find success in business and in life. In fact, according to Aristotle courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible. Famous positive thinker Dale Carnegie once advised people to do the thing they fear as the quickest way to conquer fear. So how do you banish fear and live the life you want? These 10 might help.
1. Embrace vulnerability
People who live fear-based lives often have little or no confidence in themselves. If you feel afraid of other people seeing who you are, open up and become more vulnerable.
2. Admit you have fears
In addition to opening yourself up to others, admit you have fears. Identifying what you are truly afraid of gives you the information you need to overcome the fears and insecurities.
3. Face your fears
Exposing yourself to your fears is a great way to overcome a phobia or fear. People who feel afraid of snakes often change their minds after handling snakes with the help of a trained professional.
4. Think positively
Part of a positive attitude is allowing others to love you and show you affection. If you are the kind of person who refuses favors, let others do nice things for you.
5. Reduce your stress
Sometimes you experience fear due to exhaustion. Make sure you eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. Take breaks and take your vacation time. We all need a break.
6. Demonstrate courage
Another important way to overcome fear is to show your courage. Take the time to help a person who is in a dangerous situation. Instead of ignoring a person in distress, call for help or take bold step to intervene.
7.Know failure but press forward
If you fail, don’t curl up into a ball or head to a metaphorical corner. Instead, keep moving forward.
8. Cope with risk and uncertainty
You can conquer your fears by learning to deal with life’s uncertainties. If you fear losing your home to a foreclosure, set up an emergency savings account. If you fear losing your spouse to another person or losing your client, figure out what it takes to keep them.
9. Continue to learn
Continue to grow by constantly trying to learn and improve your skills. Take all opportunities learn a new skill. Read top thought leaders books and read everything you can about your industry. The more you know the less risk you have to take to be successful.
10. Accept your challenges
Stay on the course even after confronting challenges and fears. Instead of hiding face what lies ahead. In many cases, fear is just in your head. Most of what you fear will never come to pass. Don’t waste time worrying when you can get ahead by living.
We cant and shouldn’t let FEAR drive our decisions. We shouldn’t let FEAR stop us from what we want and what we deserve. We shouldn’t let fear have control. So deal with FEAR so you can start focusing on the most important things like. accomplishing your goals.
Most Relevant Verses
Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”
Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance.
Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.”
Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.
Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Anyone who rebels against your command and does not obey your words in all that you command him, shall be put to death; only be strong and courageous.”
Joshua then said to them, “Do not fear or be dismayed! Be strong and courageous, for thus the Lord will do to all your enemies with whom you fight.”
Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what is good in His sight.”
Absalom commanded his servants, saying, “See now, when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then put him to death. Do not fear; have not I myself commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.”
He said, “O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you; take courage and be courageous!” Now as soon as he spoke to me, I received strength and said, “May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”
Now therefore, let your hands be strong and be valiant; for Saul your lord is dead, and also the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”
Wait for the Lord ;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord .
Be strong and let your heart take courage,
All you who hope in the Lord .
Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act.”
Take courage and be men, O Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been slaves to you; therefore, be men and fight.”
Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.
But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord , ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the Lord , ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the Lord of hosts.
This article was co-authored by Annie Lin, MBA. Annie Lin is the founder of New York Life Coaching, a life and career coaching service based in Manhattan. Her holistic approach, combining elements from both Eastern and Western wisdom traditions, has made her a highly sought-after personal coach. Annie’s work has been featured in Elle Magazine, NBC News, New York Magazine, and BBC World News. She holds an MBA degree from Oxford Brookes University. Annie is also the founder of the New York Life Coaching Institute which offers a comprehensive life coach certification program. Learn more: https://newyorklifecoaching.com
There are 38 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 14 testimonials and 94% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.
This article has been viewed 764,943 times.
Do you want to be more courageous? Bravery isn’t something you’re born with – you acquire it over time as you gain life experiences. You can practice being brave by acting on what your heart tells you to do and challenging yourself with new experiences, even when you’re afraid. It can take a little time and a lot of patience with yourself, but with a positive attitude and helpful ways of thinking, you’ll find yourself becoming braver than you ever thought possible.
When someone told me recently that they thought I was very brave, I dismissed the comment. To me, having courage means overcoming extraordinary challenges, like climbing Mount Everest or running with the bulls. It never dawned on me that I demonstrate bravery every day, yet we all do. In fact, even though we aren’t necessarily facing tough physical challenges like climbing a mountain, we deal with a variety of obstacles and a multitude of fears as a part of our daily lives. And for the most part, we dismiss our ability to overcome these as not worthy of acknowledgement.
What I’ve learned is that recognizing your bravery, no matter how insignificant the situation may seem to you, is empowering. It fuels your self-confidence and personal and professional power. And the continued dismissal of how you demonstrate courage, keeps you small.
The dictionary definition of courage is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.” I would argue that it isn’t necessary to NOT have fear when facing these situations. In fact, we demonstrate more courage when we are fearful and then proceed despite our fear. That shows the most courage of all!
From my own experience in competitive corporate settings, as well as coaching hundreds of professional women, it is obvious to me that as professional women we deal with difficulties, danger and pain (maybe not physical, but emotional) as part of our normal work day. And we have the courage to maintain our composure and stay focused. That takes courage!
Here are ten ways you most likely show courage every day:
You’re the only woman in the room, but you speak up anyway. How many times do you walk into a meeting, take a seat at the table and realize you’re the only woman present? Men dominate the conversation and rarely ask your opinion. Sometimes they ask, but then try to talk over you. But you show courage when you volunteer your opinion or when you respond to questions with confidence and demonstrate you’ve done your homework.
You ask your boss for a raise or promotion and offer sound proof of why you deserve it. If we don’t communicate our career goals, we won’t get the support we need to advance. Let it be known that you have ambition. Ask for a raise when you feel you have earned it and present documentation of your business results and how you can move the company or department forward to reach their goals. If you don’t get the desired response, ask for input on how to advance and when it might be possible to get the raise or promotion.
You hire diverse teams that don’t necessarily agree with you all the time. You listen to their point of view and are open to hearing what they have to say. It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone and listen to others with an open mind. We often ask for input but then dismiss it because we are so convinced our opinions are right. It takes courage to entertain other ideas and admit you may be wrong.
You challenge the status quo. Although you want to make sure you’re not perceived as always being negative, you do want to challenge the status quo when appropriate. It’s courageous to offer different ideas to stimulate new thinking with your boss and co-workers. Present your ideas in a positive manner to avoid being labeled a naysayer. When you unlock the current thinking of your team, you emerge as a leader.
You have a difficult conversation with co-workers, your manager, or your direct reports. You may need to confront them about an inappropriate statement, something they did or didn’t do and this makes you uncomfortable. When you speak up, you show courage and people will respect you for communicating your feelings.
You set boundaries with your colleagues and team. You show courage when you refuse to be a doormat. When you clearly state what is acceptable and what is not, and when you hold people accountable for their actions. You are brave when you honor your own needs, when you own your work and refuse to let your colleagues or boss take credit. When you do this, you stand in your personal power.
You make a formal presentation despite your fear of public speaking. Fear of public speaking is common. You want to be seen as a leader and when you get the opportunity to do a presentation that will give you more visibility and credibility, you offer to do it. You show courage when you persist despite your fear. You prepare and practice and practice so you sound confident and poised. That’s courageous.
You carve out time from your busy schedule for self-care. This may not sound like courage to you but let’s face it, most of us have such a busy schedule that taking care of ourselves is our last priority. It shows courage to say “no;” no to your colleagues and no to your family, and to declare that you need time alone, or you need time to work out or have a girl’s night out. You need a break and recognizing that and honoring that need takes courage.
You ask permission to work remotely and present a sound business case for doing so. Your company may not offer the option to work virtually, but you find that you get easily distracted working in the office and you know you are much more productive working at home. You put your well thought out business case together and make the request highlighting how it will benefit your boss and department. You put a timeline together for when you will be in the office versus home. Presenting your case and asking permission takes courage.
You leave your current company when you realize that your values are no longer aligned and there is no opportunity for advancement. You’ve been with the company long enough to know that it is not the type of organization in which you will thrive. Maybe there have been some changes in leadership since you joined, but now you don’t see a clear future despite your hard work. First of all, the recognition that you should move on takes courage. You may have a good salary, good benefits, a good commute. Why would you leave? But you’re honoring your values and honoring your talent and ambition. Putting a plan in place to find new opportunities takes courage and determination as well.
Can you relate to any of these? Isn’t it time you recognized your courage in dealing with some of these situations?
Try keeping a journal of how you demonstrate courage each day and recognize just how brave you are! That acknowledgement will help you become more confident and more successful.
If you found this article valuable, please follow me on Twitter and check out my website and book, The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead for additional resources.
Nurturing strong and capable leaders is a top priority for organizations today. Research by the Center for Creative Leadership shows that firms committed to cultivating leadership talent experience:
- Improved financial performance
- Success in navigating organizational change
- Higher employee attraction and retention rates
- A greater ability to drive strategic execution
While there is a range of workplace competencies that characterize effective leadership, such as knowing how to give feedback and communicate organizational change, there are also key emotional traits and behaviors that professionals need to access and nurture in order to bring out the best in themselves and others. Among those traits is courage.
“A courageous leader is an individual who’s capable of making themselves better and stronger when the stakes are high and circumstances turn against that person,” says Harvard Business School Professor Nancy Koehn, who teaches a free, online leadership lesson about legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton. “Most of our lives, we’re beset by crises. Courageous leaders are not cowed or intimidated. They realize that, in the midst of turbulence, there lies an extraordinary opportunity to grow and rise.”
If you want to guide your team with conviction and transform business challenges into opportunities for positive change, here are five characteristics of courageous leaders you should develop to unleash your potential and advance your career.
Courageous Leadership Characteristics
Authenticity is foundational to courageous leadership. A recent study found that employees’ perception of authentic leadership serves as the strongest predictor of their job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and workplace happiness. Research also shows that organizations, which are comprised of leaders who are true to themselves, demonstrate improvements in both employee trust and performance.
According to Koehn, the first step to becoming an authentic leader is to focus on self-improvement.
“Authentic leaders begin with the will and commitment to work on themselves,” Koehn says. “They’re not trying to be perfect or to somehow spring from the rib of Zeus into an iconic individual, but rather, they say, ‘Day by day and week by week, I’m going to work on myself.’”
One potential avenue for bettering yourself is to participate in leadership training. By furthering your skills and knowledge, you can not only strengthen your leadership capabilities, but also build a network of peers from whom you can learn and grow.
Leadership can be challenging. When complex business problems arise, you need to be prepared to meet them head-on and be resilient as you work toward a solution.
“Resilience is the capacity to not only endure great challenges, but to get stronger in the midst of them,” Koehn says.
She adds that resilience isn’t something everyone intrinsically possesses; it’s a learned capability that leaders can hone with experience.
“Each time we navigate through a crisis and find a little strength in it, we’re able to pick out an insight we can learn from; at the same time, we resolve not to get bitter, weaker, smaller, or more frightened, but, rather, to get the tiniest bit braver,” she says. “A leader’s ability to do this is profound, not only for him or herself, but for the impact it exerts on others and the larger mission.”
3. Emotional Intelligence
A keen sense of emotional intelligence is vital to being a leader who can collaborate with others to achieve organizational goals. According to research by TalentSmart, 90 percent of top performers in the workplace have a high degree of emotional intelligence, compared to 20 percent of bottom performers.
Another study shows that emotionally intelligent leaders are more adept at demonstrating a willingness and ability to change, which, in turn, enhances trustworthiness and boosts employee buy-in when it comes to change initiatives.
Koehn says becoming a leader who is attuned to your emotions requires a “willingness to cultivate, enhance, and deepen your self-awareness, and to learn to trust it.”
To heighten your self-awareness, consider taking a leadership self-assessment. By doing so, you can gain greater insight into your workplace behaviors and how others perceive you.
In addition to building self-awareness and a deeper understanding of your emotions, you need to exercise self-discipline and demonstrate poise—even in the most trying circumstances.
“We live in a world that’s characterized by one nonstop crisis after another, like waves breaking on the shore,” Koehn says.
When facing a crisis, you need to be prepared to lead under pressure and remain composed. Koehn says a key initial step is to take stock of the circumstances surrounding the situation at hand, rather than acting prematurely.
“Realize that in the heat of the moment, nothing an individual leader can do can solve the whole situation,” Koehn says. “You’re better off acting from your strongest, calmest self than you are taking the first reactive, immediate action.”
5. Commitment to Purpose
Purpose is critical to both individual and organizational success. A report by EY shows that 96 percent of leaders believe purpose is important to their job satisfaction. In a separate study by DDI, it was found that purpose builds organizational resilience and improves long-term financial performance.
For you and your firm to reap these benefits, it’s imperative to consider how you can be more purpose-driven and leverage your organization’s objectives to instill your team with a sense of mission.
Seek to empower your employees by tying their work to important strategic initiatives, and delegate tasks that drive key projects forward.
Through such actions, you can inspire faith in your employees and ignite their desire to perform at their best.
“It’s what we’re thirsty for now,” Koehn says. “We’re looking for leaders who can help us make a leap of faith and be integral to creating a better world, and to believe this is worthy of doing and possible.”
Becoming a Courageous Leader
Growing into a courageous leader can pay dividends for your company and career. By committing to a leadership development plan that builds your authenticity, resilience, emotional intelligence, self-discipline, and commitment to purpose, you can acquire the skills to lead with bravery and conviction in challenging times.
Do you want to improve your leadership capabilities? Download our e-book on how to become a more effective leader or take our free, 35-minute leadership lesson about legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton, and discover how you can develop the skills to lead with courage and conviction.
It takes a surprising amount of bravery for employees to point out ways organizations can learn and improve. Leaders can make it easier for people to speak up.
- Workplace, Teams, & Culture
- Organizational Behavior
- Skills & Learning
What to Read Next
Already a member?
Not a member?
5 free articles per month, $6.95/article thereafter, free newsletter.
Unlimited digital content, quarterly magazine, free newsletter, entire archive.
Image courtesy of Alex Nabaum/theispot.com
When you think of workplace courage, your mind might go straight to whistleblowing — calling out unethical behavior, often in the senior ranks of an organization. That’s the example we see again and again in news stories: people who have risked their jobs, entire careers, or even family relationships to report doctored research, for instance, or delays in recalling potentially deadly defective products.1
But whistleblowing is only the most obvious example. Other behaviors that organizational leaders tend to see as “just doing your job” take guts as well. Challenging bosses about strategic moves or operating policies, speaking honestly to peers or subordinates who aren’t pulling their weight, making and owning bold decisions — these, too, are acts of workplace courage.
Research Updates From MIT SMR
Get weekly updates on how global companies are managing in a changing world.
Please enter a valid email address
Thank you for signing up
In a study of employees of all types from hundreds of organizations over the past decade, we identified 35 behaviors that employees often view as quite courageous.2 As it turns out, many of them are also behaviors that lead, directly or indirectly, to personal, team, and organizational learning. That is, they are behaviors that promote growth; individuals and groups that engage in them become stronger, more capable, and more productive.
Here’s the good news: The more of these behaviors people report seeing at work, the better the outcomes for individual employees, teams, and their organizations. Take, for example, speaking truth to power. A company’s learning cycle is strengthened and optimized when people give honest feedback to those in charge. It leads to greater reflection at all levels and increases the flow of new ideas about how the organization can operate and perform.3 Similarly, teams in which peers hold one another accountable are more likely than others to identify areas of improvement and increase both individual and group effectiveness.4 And taking on stretch assignments or championing a bold process change can be a significant driver of personal growth and learning for individuals — which, of course, also benefits the organization.5
But here’s the bad news: Courageous behaviors that result in improvement, learning, and higher functioning over the long term don’t happen nearly enough day to day. In our research, we found a consistently negative correlation between how courageous people think a particular behavior is and how frequently it happens.
Read the Full Article
- Workplace, Teams, & Culture
- Organizational Behavior
- Skills & Learning
About the Authors
Jim Detert is the John L. Colley Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and the author of Choosing Courage: The Everyday Guide to Being Brave at Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2021). Evan Bruno is a Ph.D. candidate in leadership and organizational behavior at the Darden School of Business, where he researches workplace courage and speaking up.
1. J. Carreyrou, “Theranos Whistleblower Shook the Company — and His Family,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 18, 2016, www.wsj.com; and T. Higgins and N. Summers, “GM Recalls: How General Motors Silenced a Whistleblower,” Bloomberg Businessweek, June 19, 2014, www.bloomberg.com.
2. E.A. Bruno and J.R. Detert, “The Workplace Courage Acts Index (WCAI): Observations and Impact,” Academy of Management Proceedings 2019, no. 1 (August 2019). See also J.R. Detert, “Choosing Courage: The Everyday Guide to Being Brave at Work” (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2021).
3. See, for example, E.W. Morrison, “Employee Voice Behavior: Integration and Directions for Future Research,” The Academy of Management Annals 5, no. 1 (June 2011): 373-412; A.C. Edmondson, “Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams,” Administrative Science Quarterly 44, no. 2 (June 1999): 350-383; and E.W. Morrison and F.J. Milliken, “Organizational Silence: A Barrier to Change and Development in a Pluralistic World,” Academy of Management Review 25, no. 4 (October 2000): 706-725.
4. A.C. Edmondson, “Speaking Up in the Operating Room: How Team Leaders Promote Learning in Interdisciplinary Action Teams,” Journal of Management Studies 40, no. 6 (September 2003): 1419-1452.
5. L. Dragoni, P.E. Tesluk, J.E.A. Russell, et al., “Understanding Managerial Development: Integrating Developmental Assignments, Learning Orientation, and Access to Developmental Opportunities in Predicting Managerial Competencies,” Academy of Management Journal 52, no. 4 (August 2009): 731-743.
6. G. Scarre, “On Courage” (New York: Routledge, 2010).
7. To see where you and your organization fall in our index, you can take a survey at www.workplacecai.com. When finished, you will get a free report showing how your results compare with others’ responses.
8. J.R. Hackman, “Group Influences on Individuals in Organizations,” in “APA Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology,” vol. 3, eds. M.D. Dunnette and L.M. Hough (Palo Alto, California: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1992): 199-267.
9. Examples in which last names are not used have been disguised in the interest of privacy.
10. C.L. Porath and C.M. Pearson, “The Cost of Bad Behavior,” Organizational Dynamics 39, no. 1 (January-March 2010): 64-71.
11. W. Deresiewicz, “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015).
Remember God’s presence. God is a loving father who doesn’t want His children to feel alone. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
“Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6). We see these words on everything from T-shirts to keychains to the front of fancy leather journals. It’s uplifting, it’s inspiring, and it looks great painted in loopy calligraphy on a little wooden sign.
I love carrying Scripture around with me as much as the next Christian, but there are a couple of problems with commercializing this verse: One, it’s not the whole verse and two, it’s often taken out of context.
Since this verse is shortened and misinterpreted so often, it’s important for us to explore what people often take it to mean, compare it to the verse’s actual context within the chapter it’s taken from, and what it means for us today.
How the World Wants Us to Take It
When left on its own, “Be strong and courageous” is a bit broad. In his article, Be Strong and Courageous, Pastor Andrew Courtis points out the danger of this ambiguity:
The words “strong” and “courageous” take on various meanings in our culture. To voice your own opinion and shut down others is considered strength and courage. To promote or pursue a lifestyle that is against the teaching of Scripture is often labeled “brave” or “courageous”.
American culture is no longer centered on truth. It, instead, revolves around opinion, fake news, shaming, and division. There are at least two sides to every issue, and Christians on both sides tend to use “be strong and courageous” to fuel their desire to widen the chasm between themselves and their perceived enemies.
The result: Christians who should be loving each other and taking care of the world as a unified force are demeaning each other based on their voting choices and touting infighting as courageous.
The Complete Verse
Earlier I mentioned that “be strong and courageous” isn’t the whole verse. So, what is the whole verse? The complete version says, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”
This verse is set in Joshua 1, where God is appointing Joshua as Moses’s successor and the person, He will use to lead Israel into the Promised Land.
The complete version of Joshua 1:6 tells us who God is addressing and tells us one of several instructions given to Joshua, but it’s still not enough to give us 100% of God’s instructions. For that, we need to read the verses that come immediately after it:
Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:7-9)
What is God asking Joshua to do here, aside from emphasizing that He really wants Joshua to be strong and courageous? He’s telling Joshua to:
- Obey the 10 Commandments whether he wants to or not because it’s the only way Israel will prosper (Joshua 1:7).
- Think about God and His Word every minute of every day (Joshua 1:8).
- Combat discouragement — because discouragement will come — by remembering that God will be with him wherever he goes (Joshua 1:9)
The bottom line of this passage is that despite the repetitions of “be strong and courageous,” it’s not truly about Joshua’s strength or courage. It’s about Joshua being told, rather, commanded, to seek God first above all else and make sure Israel does the same. Why? Because Joshua can only be strong and courageous if his strength and courage come from the Lord and not his own power.
What it Means for Us
God was addressing a specific person in this passage, so what does it have to do with us? Once again, Pastor Courtis concludes, in his study of Joshua 1, that Joshua is asked to model three behaviors, which apply directly to modern Christians:
1. Remember God’s promises (Joshua 1:6). God promised to deliver Israel from Egypt and give them a land of their own, and that’s exactly what He did. There was a 40-year gap between the Exodus and Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land, but time is incapable of weakening the promises of God.
2. Remember God’s principles (Joshua 1:7-8). God wants to be in a relationship with us, but relationships are, by definition, mutual. As such, we need to put effort into that relationship by getting to know God through Scripture and applying what we learn from it. We obviously won’t get it right, but God knows that and is more than powerful enough to compensate for everything we lack.
3. Remember God’s presence (Joshua 1:9). God may be a God of justice, but He is also a loving father who doesn’t want His children to feel alone. This verse reminds us that even if our families don’t agree with our faith, even if our friends turn their backs on us, even if we become martyrs for our love for God, He will stay at our side when every last person abandons us.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/the_modern_life_mrs
Sonya Downing is a novelist, freelance writer, and content editor with a bachelor’s degree in professional writing. Her freelance work has been published in Focus on the Family’s teen girl magazine Brio, The Evangelical Church Library Association, and The Secret Place quarterly magazine. She has also blogged for IlluminateYA Publishing and edited for Mountain Brook Ink. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.