Especially with regard to leaders – courageous leadership requires people to see what others do not want to see, say what others do not want to say, and do what others do not want to do. To make the necessary changes to evolve, an organization requires courageous leaders who possess strength and conviction to hold on to the inevitable resistance.
How to shift from Fear to Courage?
From the comfortable image based on Politics to the strong image based on Values:
Contrary to popular belief, courage is a teachable and learnable skill, and most everyone has the capacity to be courageous.
The first step to overcome fear is to recognize it. Second step is to explore it a little deeper, to understand what this feeling is really about.
Fear in professional context is usually related to keeping a positive image about yourself, on the eyes of others – be it the boss, peers or employees – to avoid headaches. For many professional in organizations the importance of courage is obscured. The approach taken by some is to get along and fit in. This is the way to protect an image based on politics.
However, the effort to protect this image might have a very high cost, like for instance giving up on doing what’s right, in the right way and for the right reasons. Sometimes this effort requires you to not follow your heart, or to act against your values.
There are also situations when to protect this image you have to pretend you are not seeing what is wrong, and prevent from suggesting solutions – to avoid other people to feel uncomfortable. Or to fight for the status quo, instead of using your potential to give high contribution to the organization by making things better.
All these behaviors to protect “the political image” may bring frustration and dissatisfaction with your job and most importantly, with yourself.
It is possible to shift perspective from image based on politics to image based on values. You do this by developing a vision that represents your authentic self and goals, and aligning that vision with the business and its goals.
Once you have your vision based on values, you are likely to give the world something to react to instead of just reacting to what the world gives to you. This is courage – it allows you to finally do what is right, in the right way, for the right reasons.
It is true that this behavior may sometimes bring retaliations. But if this happens, courage will also help you to turn obstacles into building blocks for growth, and take next step. When you achieve this type of courage, you never regret of doing the right thing – simply because it is aligned with your values!
From risk to opportunity:
Fear is driven by the perspective of risks. Courage is driven by the perspective of opportunity.
When change is about to happen, the risk perspective is what brings fear and resistance. However, a more positive attitude can allow you to seek for opportunities in the same context. Changes bring new spaces, new contexts, and of course, new opportunities for those who embrace them instead of resisting. Reframing your perspective from risk to opportunity helps you embrace change, which leverages your chances of success.
From obstacles to challenges
This is another powerful reframing that supports the shift from fear to courage.
We tend to see difficulties in our professional path as obstacles. By definition, an obstacle is “a thing that blocks one’s way or prevents progress.”
When we reframe our perspective from obstacle to challenge, we empower ourselves. We shift the power to stop us (originally given to the “obstacle”) to ourselves (notice that, by the challenge definition, our success depends on our own effort).
Self-compassion promotes a safe internal environment. Without self-compassion, people avoid taking risks and lack the courage to go forward. But with a strong inner environment, you can weather the storm of a tumultuous external environment. You can walk into a room with no emotional engagement — if your inner environment is strong and you understand what’s going on – you can go in and come out intact.
Courage turned into behaviors:
Here are some behaviors that illustrate professional courage, and move professionals and teams forward when put in practice:
- Confront reality.Face the facts about the state of the environment / project / organization and business. Only by knowing the true current state we can move to a better place.
- Seek feedback and listen. We all have blind spots that impact the way we interact with others. Honest feedback from people you trust is not always easy to hear, but it can help you get visibility of your weaknesses and work on your self-development.
- Say what needs to be said.Real conversations can be uncomfortable, especially if conflict is involved, but having crucial conversations is needed to move through issues. This also means having the courage to put your opinions on the table, even if they are unpopular.
- If you are a leader, take action on performance issues. Confronting people issues is hard, and this is why so many leaders ignore them until they become a toxic threat to the team or company’s performance. By taking effective action to provide effective feedback, reassign or exit underperforming employees, you are helping yourself, the team and organization.
- Communicate openly and frequently. Keep the lines of communication open, even when you don’t know all the answers. Courageous leaders use straight-talk and are not afraid to say “I don’t know.” They also share information instead of hiding it.
- Lead change.Instead of protecting the status quo, envision a better process, a better solution, a better product – and approach it with determination and an open mind.
- Make decisions and move forward. Avoid being paralyzed by ‘endless analysis’ and make the decision with calculated risks. Forward movement is always better than being stuck in place.
- Hold people and yourself accountable. Expect people to perform and deliver on their commitments, and have courage to call them out when they don’t follow through. Accountability begins with you – holding yourself responsible for modeling the behaviors you expect of others.
There is a famous quote which says that “courage is not absence of fear. It is action, despite the fear”.
Coaching is about helping the client to shift from disempowering to empowering perspectives, in such a way that client’s actions towards their objectives are made possible, with the assumption that the defined objectives are aligned with the client’s values.
In the specific field of Leadership / Executive Coaching (to which this Power Tool was designed) it is not uncommon for the coach to find the client stuck by fear to act, or worse than that, taking actions that go against their values or objectives. This is usually source of professional and personal dissatisfaction and frustration.
When the client is in that space, firstly the safe atmosphere of the coaching relationship can provide the basis for the needed awareness. Fear is a natural human emotion, and facing it is the first step to make a change.
There is then the need to reframe this perspective Courage. A positive approach is the Visualization exercise, where the client sees himself/herself in the position of being loyal to their values, being free to do what they think is right.
Here are some powerful questions that can support the reframing:
- If you knew now that you are protected from any judgement, how would you act?
- You mention some risks of taking the actions you would like. Wherever there are risks, there are also opportunities. What would be some opportunities in this case?
- What would it feel like if for some magic right now you were not stuck by this fear, and you are able to do what your heart tells you to do?
- What is the worst thing that can happen if you follow your values in this case?
Leadership Thoughts at the Conclusion – Wright L. Lassiter Jr. 2014
Charismatic to the core: a fresh approach to authentic leadership – Nikki Owen 2015
Making the Courage Connection: How People Get from Fear to Freedom – By Doug Hall, David Wecker – 1998