A conversation with Sandra Ford Walston, The Courage Expert and innovator of StuckThinking™ is an Organizational Effectiveness Consultant, Trainer and a courage coach. Her initial courage research focused on the feminine behaviors of courage. Now, after sixteen years of research, she conveys the male and female insights on the merits of courage at work. Below is an excerpt from a recent interview about courage and heroes:
Q. What’s your definition of hero?
A. A hero never gives up on reaching for the dreams, the goal—the “end game.” Forming and pursuing dreams or goals can be among the proudest moments in your life; they define who you are and how you want to be. Based on the original definition of the word courage, meaning “heart and spirit,” these actions equal personal courage. Unfortunately courage remains a forgotten virtue because most people do not recognize their everyday actions as courageous. Do you have a dream? Are you living it? Can you say absolutely that you are self-fulfilled?
Many times a hero is the everyday person doing what needs to be done at that moment for the human race. Diane is not famous, but she’s one of my heroes. Traveling by plane, Diane noticed the woman sitting next to her appeared to be having a heart attack. The woman’s daughter asked the flight attendant for help. Knowing two doctors were on board, the flight attendant called for assistance. As Diane waited for the medical professionals to come forward, she consoled the victim with loving eye contact, comforting comments and she held the woman’s hand.
The daughter began to panic when no doctor came forward. Ready to assist the woman, Diane cleaned the vomit from the woman’s mouth and applied CPR. Time was precious as the airplane made a trained “crash landing.” Diane became the ailing woman’s angel. She stayed with this stranger until they rushed her out the door and into an ambulance. What would you do under the same circumstances? What would you expect if the tables were turned?
The downfall of some people is a desire to be a hero, cherishing the image and getting lost in the identification. With the realization and understanding that courage is in us all, though it may be dormant (or as with Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” we may be “asleep in the poppy field”), we need only call upon this miraculous reserve in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.
Courage and heroism are more than words: you must take action, to realize either. Ferrucci wrote in Inevitable Grace, “No action leaves us the same as before. Whether it be stealing or making a gift, heroism or eroticism, restraint or spontaneity, everything we do produces its mark on us.” Most of us do not live in an elevated level of courage consciousness such as a Florence Nightingale or an Albert Schweitzer, but in the end, it is our actions that express our heart.
Q. Don’t you have to do something heroic at work to be considered courageous?
A. Now there’s a media myth! Anyone who “survives something at great odds” is considered a hero. Cut off your forearm during an accident and you’re a hero. Escape from an Iraqi prison and you’re a hero. While these examples do include daring and fortitude actions, based on my angle of research these are not two examples of courage. They are two forms of heroism. There is so much more to courage. Firefighters or police officers will tell you they are not heroes either. They are trained professionals who know how to do their jobs. The everyday courage at work I am talking about is not amazing, sensational, tragic or dramatic—that’s TV—that’s called entertainment! We hold an assessment that if a story is not a headline it can’t be valuable. That’s what keeps your personal, less sensationalized courage merely a footnote!
Here are a few common yet profound thoughts that challenge the human spirit and uncover everyday courage:
• You have been passed over for a promotion and are upset. How can you find the courage to speak up and state your qualifications and intention to pursue the promotion?
• You have made an error in a corporate proposal for a customer. How can you find the courage to be vulnerable and admit your mistake?
We pay tribute to sensational stories, but what I am suggesting is to celebrate the common actions that occur in your organization and make them the norm. Recognizing and experiencing the power of gratitude goes a long way. It’s called feeling en-couraged (rather than dis-couraged). Your actions express your heart and your words convey the expression.
Q. What tips would you offer to help people to claim, integrate and apply courage in their personal and professional lives?
A. 1) What percentage of your life is filled with regret? Figure out an actual percentage! That number is always a prime indicator of how true you are being to your courage and how long (years) you tend to linger in suffering. For example, a good indicator is to determine if you’ve stayed at a job that bleeds rather than feeds your heart. Is your life filled with “shoulds” such as the classic phrase: “I should have done it a long time ago.” Are you a fraud about who you are? How long have you been stuck on that rung of the ladder?
2) Ask yourself: What would I do right now if I had unlimited courage? Write it down for future reference!
3) Imagine a time when you were truly proud. Relive that experience—that was your courage at work! Now integrate that energy and “step up.”
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