Interview Questions from Renecents Solutions:
Q1. You are recognised for your powerful work as a courage speaker, trainer and Courage Coach, but how would you define courage? Is it different for different people?
Let’s start with a foundation that reveals a few perspectives about what courage is and is not, and then move into my research and findings.
First of all, courage has been misplaced and labeled incorrectly. Traditionally, only facing fear under perilous circumstances is labeled courageous or persevering, withstanding danger or overcoming difficulty. Running into a burning building to save a pet, pushing a pedestrian out of the way of a speeding car, jumping in front of a bear to divert its pursuit (of you), a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his squad, or tackling a robber in flight are readily accepted instances.
The perspective you hold about claiming your courage makes a difference. One radio announcer said, “It’s the man who pulls a guy out of the Potomac River when a plane goes down or the guy who runs into a burning building to get some kid out — that’s courageous, not some woman who teaches in a hard-luck school in the ghetto for twenty-five years because ‘they need her’ or some kid who sends in his stupid allowance to the Red Cross when there’s a flood in Africa, or the guy who tells on a cheating boss. These are nice people, but they’re not courageous! Real courage takes a lot of muscle and split-second thinking.”
In my opinion, this radio announcer denigrates “true courage” by confining it to physical bravado. Most ideas about courage lean toward split-second sensationalism that relies on instinct. Perhaps, he believes only larger-than-life people where you survive or die are the prime personality types capable of responding in an emergency. Yet, in between, there’s all of life for we “everyday people.” Besides, plenty of ordinary (and petite) people such as Rosa Parks have made their mark on history along with other “famous” people such as Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa.
Courage has been misplaced and labeled incorrectly. What I am suggesting is that everyday people like you and me, display courage constantly and subtlety. Split-second heroism and everyday courage are not one and the same. Courage is much more complex than spontaneous reactions to traumatic events. We “everyday people” can embrace our courage and pass it on to others. But how? You do it by inviting the original definition into your life.
Etymology of Courage
Courage originates from the Old French corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” I apply this original definition to my life. Becoming aware of the behaviors and rewards of courage I feel more empowered to be discerning and better able to respond to my inherent energy of courage. The word virtue in Latin means “energy.” Paradoxically, hiding my courage drains my energy. I know when my reservoir of courage is low or brimming over. My reservoir is full when I turn down a piece of business because it doesn’t feel like the right fit. I also know when I swallow my voice or sell my soul. I have the dignity to dare. When I constantly ask “Am I being true to who I am” I know I am applying the original definition to my life.
After nine years of original research I have discovered that courage is defined differently for different people. What’s important to realize is that your definition of courage defines who you are! What’s your definition of courage?
Based on the first five years of my courage research that yielded my first book, I extracted twelve behaviours of courage found on the “Source Wheel” diagram (http://www.sandrawalston.com/book/courage/source-wheel/). People will label courage with one of those twelve behaviours, such as living convictions, manifesting vision, affirming strength and determination or conquering fear.
Virtues are Abstract
Most people say, “Courage is not even a word I had given much thought to.” Why? It’s is a BIG word! Like all virtues, it’s abstract. We grow up learning other virtues, such as honesty, integrity or humor, but courage is the forgotten virtue because people do not recognize their everyday actions as significant. Courage is a state of Being. Sometimes courage is about quietly blazing a trail as a rebel with a cause who sacrifices for a bigger principle. Acts of personal courage rarely roar!
Each day your actions define who you are and reveal your heart. A society of only hero worshippers leaves most of us out. Most people do not perceive themselves as courageous and only 11% of women do. What’s required is a shift in cultural tenets that begin with learning about courage at school, home and work. Then you learn that courage is the mother of all the virtues.
To initiate that change in perspective, answer these three questions: (1) When was the last time you used the word? (2) Are you willing to invite the original definition into your life? (3) When your time comes to pass on were you true to your heart and spirit (if so, there will be little to regret)? There is an untapped reservoir of courage waiting in us all.
Q2. Why did you choose courage as your expertise of choice? Was it because you already had enough or too little? Can it even be assessed in those terms –too much or too little?
Why Research Courage?
I chose to research the behaviors of courage when I faced a multi-faceted hurdle, or what some would call a dark night of the soul. I always felt my courage was innate but under this duress and during times of uncertainty, I had to summon it and trust that it would propel me through this situation. Would I be able to step up and reinvent myself one more time? This is about trusting in the moment my instincts. My story is not unusual. Most people have a story that pushed them to make a change, face the facts or sacrifice for a nobler journey. The problem is we don’t label these forks in the road as courage; yet, the choice and capability is waiting to be awakened. If I can do it, you can do it!
Once I transitioned out of my deep pothole, I began a new journey that started with researching the feminine behaviours of courage. I wondered if other women (and now men) called upon their courage during times of uncertainty or suffering. Now, with nine years of research, my clarification about this virtue continues to deepen. Clarity is a cousin to courage. My dear friend Blanche Napoleon has a keen sense of this energy when she shared, “Courage is both my friend and my teacher. Without courage, I would be an empty shell. With courage, I am complete and full of love and yearning for life, and whatever it brings.”
Too Much or Too Little?
I don’t think you can ever have too much courage (and I don’t mean being foolhardy). I did not write the book I needed to read; yet, I know when my reservoir is low. Most people will change when the pain of staying in the old pattern is greater than the pain of change. But, why go through so much suffering? There is choice: you can choose to build and draw from a reservoir of courage. This supports you to stand up for the self you know to be you. The choice is yours and it starts with whether you will choose to give yourself permission, and to be conscious about your spirit’s dignity and true essence. This is not found in Business 101! You know when you’ve stayed on a job far too long because it’s bleeding your heart not feeding your spirit. When you choose to design new choices you limit the residual of regret.
Q3 Your book ‘Courage’ focuses on women and courage, is women’s courage different from that of men’s? Are women more or less inclined to find courage in the workplace?
Male Notions of Courage
I have not conducted research on courage gender differences. Gender colors behavior, perception and perspectives. I have researched and discovered that throughout history, women have always acted from their hearts, but male notions of courage as heroic have diminished recognition of feminine courage. Perhaps, women have been asleep (unconscious) to the truth that they have always been courageous. Discovering courage awakens an ancient feminine energy that every woman should utilize.
Women and Courage at Work
In today’s business world, courage has a much deeper meaning and a more relevant role for women such as the family-career balancing act, difficulty with confrontation, reentering the workplace, political finesse, undermining other women and releasing the way people judge women who stand in their “originality.”
When women exhibit courage in the workplace, such as taking a stand on a precarious issue, speaking up as a new hire in a traditional male industry or overcoming a professional risk by taking a project they believe in “underground,” they tap into a valuable personal reserve called courage. This energy is very different from the sensational examples highlighted in Question #1. Courageous women “step up” to the next level. They designed their steps rather than letting outside influences dictate who they are or what they should be. As a result of learning to live wholly in the moment and having the courage to stop and reflect, they processed choices clearly and quickly, took action more readily and stayed centered in their Truth. Courage Centering™ is a program I conduct to assist people in this process.
The Label Trap
Unfortunately, when working women do demonstrate the behaviors of courage, they’re often labeled with some unflattering word to keep them “in their place.” On a performance review, they may receive what I call the “too syndrome” comments, such as too strong, too driven or too outspoken. The irony is that for men, these descriptions are often desirable. However, if used to inspire a woman to action, these stereotypical limitations can actually benefit women and increase their courage quotient. Facing habitual stereotypes, the first step is to acknowledge and honor in every human spirit their personal courageous behaviors. This perpetuates change in typecast.
Q4 Do you think organisations undervalue the power courage can have to the bottom line? Is it a requirement or nice to have for our leaders, and employees in general?
Most organizations do undervalue the power of courage and its bottom line effect. It’s the same with quality control, risk-management or diversity. How do you label or pigeon-hole an abstract? How do capture the nuances of the human condition?
In reality, each person has the capacity to be a courageous leader regardless of his or her company position. Whether you’re a graphic designer, a sales executive, or the CEO, how you confront workday issues and contribute to your own professional advancement speak volume about your courage quotient and set a leadership example others can follow. So why aren’t organizations catching on?
Courage is Caged
Unfortunately, at work most people do not identify and display courage as one of their primary leadership skills. They mistakenly believe that courage is only relevant during particularly risky times, such as downsizing. As a result, they don’t perceive exploring new ideas, confronting gossip, transitioning to a new career, transcending rejection or taking initiative as courageous leadership moments. If an employee starts to awaken his/her individual courage, then he/she may confront elements of corruption and begin to ask: “What can I affect in our culture when corporate corruption seems to be so pervasive? How am I selling my soul?”
Unfortunately, corruption severs the company’s spirits as well as those of the individual—the opposite of a symbiotic relationship. The origin of corruption is uncovered in a broad spectrum of organizational hypocrisies. These examples range from a management team in disarray, a history of underlying animosity or a handful of people with tentative interpersonal skills that implode an organization.
Ask yourself: Are you a profile in courage at work? Chances are you don’t think of yourself in that light. Courage is the awareness of the heart. The heart has an unlimited capacity to hold all that you are to be; other wise, confess now, and change. The change begins with a shift in your “perspective lens” and it occurs when you come to understand and practice of the art of Being present. Present to your actions. Regaining your courage means you step up. The opposite is dragging your feet.
Additionally, courage leadership in business also means managing with courage the paradoxes that occur, such as:
- If I tell my boss we’ve understated our debt by a billion dollars, I lose my job. If I don’t tell my boss, I may go to jail.
- If people are empowered with courage, then how do I stop them or control them?
Courage is the sponsor for improvement.
Q5 Who decides if we have been or are courageous at work? If no-one notices our courage does it count? Is it just about what it does for the individual or does it have a wider social impact? Validation at Work?
“Courage Change Agents”
Most organizations have not developed a courage leadership program that supports “courage change agents,” much less distinguished the value of courage in the individual spirit. First, the individual must declare a courageous intention to display their courage.
Does it matter if this behavior goes unnoticed? No. As mentioned before, in the end, your journey is about your dignity. Inserting your spirit at work makes a positive and practical difference, such as the dignity to dare or learning how to combine “where courage meets grace.”
Look around and you will observe in your midst a courageous person. It is the leader who guides or mentors his or her team members to move from their leadership strengths to embrace their “challenged” leadership areas. Size does not matter and one size of courage does not fit all. What most organizations don’t do is stop to celebrate individual or organizational courage defining moments demonstrated by the “courage change agents.”
In today’s business world, courage actually has a much deeper meaning and a more relevant role, especially for women. Let’s consider some very real possibilities for both genders:
- A woman has been passed over for a promotion and is upset. How can she find the courage to speak up and state her qualifications?
- A man has made an error in a corporate proposal for a customer. How can he find the courage to be vulnerable and admit his mistake?
- A woman learns she has an illness that might jeopardize her career. How can she face her fear and summon the courage to affirm her determination?
While none of the above examples are perilous, life-threatening events in the typical sense, they are all common occurrences that challenge both genders to test their every day courage. Without this vital virtue, a key part of a human beings’ spirit is lost.
Only eleven percent of women perceived themselves as courageous, the remaining group can learn to tap into a valuable personal reserve by exhibiting workplace courage, whether it is taking a stand on a creative topic or taking a professional risk. Courageous people “step up” to the next level. As a result, they process choices more quickly and take action more willingly. They design their lives rather than letting outside influences dictate who they are or what they should be. That’s why I love the ancient Chinese proverb quote: “He who hesitates before each step spends his life on one leg.”
Q6 Is courage leadership a matter of moments or lifestyles? I might make a courageous decision today and a fearful one tomorrow, am I courageous or cowardly? Can I be courageous on balance or must it be “all or nothing?”
Courage leadership is a lifestyle choice. Ask yourself: Why would you want to exhibit the efficiency that functions with courage leadership? The answer: you will discover that there is an indisputable direct correlation between your “courage quotient” and your “success quotient.” How does this start?
When you begin to live in the “present” you can recognize (in the moment) when you’re selling your soul! For example, all too often people assume that finding a new job will be difficult, so they remain complacent (complacency is a courage killer), mistakenly believing—or simply hoping—that things will change. Yet, in reality, situations seldom change by themselves. They only change when you take the initiative to make the situation reflect your heart’s desire. To show courage, decide when it’s time to face the truth or prompt a change, and then be eager to discover the next opportunity. Facing the facts and taking action are required if you wish to change your life.
The concepts presented here are deceptively simple. The mind (ego) will want to undermine (or obliterate) them. After all, how could something so easy, work? René, you wrote in your article “Simple Courage” that people at all levels of work shun simplicity for complication. You shared two reasons, “Simplicity takes talent and dedication, and it requires a great deal of courage. It takes courage to advocate simplicity. Simplicity has nowhere to hide and neither do those who advocate it.” We become courageous by being courageous — it’s that simple!
All you have to do is decide whether this forgotten virtue is worthy to learn. If Stephen Covey’s “8th-habit” leadership calls you to “help others find their own voice,” then making that a habit requires declaring your courage (speaking up is one of the twelve behaviors of courage found on the “Source Wheel” diagram). Leadership qualities are defined by courage, such as asking for the tough project no one wants or staying focused on the results (regardless of the sacrifice). What would motivate you to explore today where this ancient virtue fits into your work life? If you are receptive, you will find sometimes you’re on balance and other times you slip down a step.
Q7 The people you lecture and help through your books, are they borrowing your courage or finding their own? Is it important to recognise and identify with other courageous people?
People are beginning to be curious about their own courage and they are starting to redefine their perspectives and viewpoints. I guide them through a “Three-Step Process to Integrate Courage” to uncover their “personal courage.” Like learning yoga, the process requires time and dedication — more than a mat and towel. The three-step process is akin to taking an aerial photograph of your courage. Imagine if you were to survey in a low-flying airplane new terrain. On first pass, the new area looks unfamiliar with no apparent distinctions. The second time around, you spot some points of reference, such as a riverbed or small lake. You may ask: “How did I miss that?” The third time, the terrain starts to make sense. Finally, through simple exposure you gain familiarity. It is the same with courage. The problem is that most people want answers, not self-reflection. They prefer a courage pill for quick relief. That’s why the United States is going through the biggest prescription drug usage in history. People are more apt to take a drug to deal with conditions in hopes of getting better, but instead, they become bitter. Suffering lies in an unfulfilled heart.
Recognizing and identifying with other courageous people makes a difference because it gives you permission to be courageous.
Courage is usually identified with fictional drama or soap opera sagas, sorrow, sensationalism, unrelenting suffering, famous people or the historical deceased; otherwise, they wouldn’t be on television, make history books or be featured on a PBS documentary. Great and rare leaders who became legends start as “ordinary and simple” people. With overwhelming odds, larger than life Martin Luther King, Jr. or Golda Meir merely acted from their hearts and applied the behaviors of courage such as manifesting a vision. Their presence lent considerable strength to their cause and their legacy portrayed the depth of their courage.
Q8 Is courage a matter of process and training or something else? Can it be taught or does it have to be discovered?
I will address first my research on the feminine behaviours of courage established in Courage: The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman. Chapter 3 is called “Innate or Acquired,” and at least sixty percent of the original 11% I spoke with perceived courage as an innate virtue.
My opinion on whether courage is a matter of process and training or can it be taught or discovered covers one umbrella: courage is your birthright! The reservoir of courage resides within each of us. When you give courage permission to surface you learn to cultivate and nurture it. However you choose to come by it really doesn’t matter. What matters is your receptivity.
“Declaration of Courageous Intention”
Ask yourself this question: Do you have the courage to create a “Declaration of Courageous Intention” (DCI)? Most people are reluctant to give themselves permission. Why? They know their lives will change! In my second book, Courage Goes to Work, the DCI is the title of Chapter One and this document evolves as your read the book.
Life is rarely anguished free. It takes “personal courage” to face the challenges of who you are capable of being. Are you willing to live your life with courage in a new way?
Q9 Lastly, what influence would you like your personal discoveries and insights to have on women? What legacy should be passed on to the next generation of women in the workplace?
By gaining control over the blueprint that governs their belief system women everywhere can foster courage. Being “lady-like” is one societal perception deeply imbedded in the psyche of our culture. The woman is focused on others and is reserved, supportive, considerate, and compliant. Such limited aspirations paralyze women and cause them to flounder about in the traditional deep-rooted definition of courage: being physical, daring or representing valor. A woman’s desire to be “accepted” can undermine her personal demonstrations of courage. Additionally, women need to purge from the female psyche the use of “indirect aggression” (Chesler, 2001)—a vicious and manipulative behavior used against each other.
To change or reclaim your courageous will, look for female role models that display workday courage. Role models are imprints for change; they light the path. As more women recognize and subscribe to the behaviors of courage, such notions will no longer be deemed unusual. Other women will be encouraged to display their courage, and their collective behaviors will ease or even erase the idea that “by nature, women are not courageous.” When women bond together to advance courage in the workplace, they find the strength and determination to hurdle the daily workday challenges that confront them, such as equal pay or top positions. Eventually, the unsung stories of courage and the current denigration of courageous women will be replaced by acceptance and admiration just as it is in men.
Women who view themselves as courageous have a distinct advantage in the workplace. Not only do they have the power to direct their lives, but also they are more willing to accept the success that comes from taking a stand or making a change. Truly courageous women have learned to overcome the business world’s stereotypes in an effort to lead more fulfilling professional and personal lives. Katherine Graham, the former CEO of the Washington Post is a great example. Many say she was the greatest CEO of American history. Clare Boothe Luce, another “grand dame” lived in Katherine’s time period. She is known for saying, “Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount.”
By integrating the virtue of courage and instilling it into the workday, women everywhere have the opportunity to take action and call on courage, or “turn up” the quantity they already possess. That’s a good thing if we plan to pass this feminine energy on to our daughters, nieces or the girl next door.
Additionally, I suggest women watch for career defining moments, such as being passed over for a promotion, not receiving a fair raise, being spoken down to or having your boss publicly reprimand you. Recognizing these workplace incidents is the first step to reclaiming your courage. Unfortunately, many women misinterpret these defining moments and respond in defeating ways when the correct choice would be to declare their courage. They may believe these events are “part of the job” or they may feel that in some way they deserved the unfair treatment. They become the martyr in order to keep the peace or maintain the status quo, which ultimately stifles their courage further.
If you find it difficult to recognize the defining moments in your own workday, ask yourself what events make you upset, angry, uncomfortable, embarrassed or cause you to acquiesce. Chances are those are the times you will want to display your newfound courage. The first step to reclaiming your courage is to realize which specific events challenge your effectiveness, and then acknowledge the pattern that undermines your progress.
I would love for women to be able to animate their individual courage consciousness, celebrate collective courage and pass it on.
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