The word “courage” seems to be such a “big” word in our culture since it is frequently associated with sensationalism and tragic circumstances; yet, it simply means, “heart.” On the extreme, courage is associated with the whistle blowers witnessed at WorldCom and Enron.

Too me, “simply courage” is best quoted by Robert Louis Stevenson: “Everyday courage has few witnesses. It is no less noble because no drum beats and no crowds shout your name.” How often do you witness every day courage?

In 2012, would you be willing to embrace the etymology of the word and claim courage in your life? If so, here are four myths about courage in the workplace to jumpstart your: understanding:

Myth #1: Most people display courage at work. Demonstrating courage in the workplace is a lot like implementing ethical standards — most people tend to follow. In recent years, loads of stories surfaced about employees being told to do something unethical and then doing it in spite of the obvious issues. When the opportunity arises for you stand on the strength of you courage, do you fall on your sword or cross swords? Case in point: a woman working at a hospital noticed a peer reducing the number of procedures required to disinfect and sterilize surgical utensils. If you are that woman, will you be the whistleblower?  

Myth #2: People demonstrate courage through amazing feats of heroism. Most people believe firefighters and police officers are heroes. They were called heroes during 9/11. However, ask these professionals if they think of themselves as heroes and they will say, “No, I am trained to do my job. If you call 911 it’s a day from hell for you, not me.” Most people are not “heroes,” but we seem to associate only heroes with having courage. Certainly the hijacked 9/11 passengers who sacrificed their lives demonstrated heroism. However, everyday courage does not revolve around amazing acts of heroism, even though we pay tribute to these types of heroism more than we practice everyday courage. Everyday courage is what empowers us to ask for a raise when it is long overdue.

Myth #3: Courage leadership development in business is easy. If the goal is to implement a courageous culture, company executives must lead by example. It’s the same with quality control, risk-management and diversity. Courage leadership in business means managing with courage the paradoxes that occur. For example:

1. 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 face prison.

2. Are you given assignments that don’t make sense? What do you do? (This example tends to be more prominent the higher up the ladder one goes.)

3. If people are empowered with courage, then how do I stop them or control them?

Myth #4: Past generations had an easier time being courageous because the work environment was less complicated. Florence Nightingale, Golda Meir and Victoria Woodhull would all argue that point. Florence Nightingale worked 20-hour days in a filthy Turkish war hospital in order to reform British healthcare. Golda Meir overcame poverty, racist violence and sexism to become a respected world leader. Victoria Woodhull escaped a “white trash” upbringing and fought abusive Victorian “values” to fight for women’s rights and run for theU.S. presidency. The women of every generation face serious obstacles, which is why courageous behaviors in the workplace must be promoted. Courageous workplace behaviors include admitting mistakes at the first opportunity; speaking up with candor and grace in difficult situations; challenging the status quo; and creating a culture that commends instead of blames.    

Sandra Ford Walston is known as The Courage Expert and innovator of StuckThinking™. She is an organizational effectiveness consultant, speaker, trainer and courage coach. She is the internationally published author of bestseller COURAGE The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman (2001), the follow-up book STUCK 12 Steps Up the Leadership Ladder (2010) and the recently released FACE IT! 12 Obstacles that Hold You Back on the Job (2011). She is certified in the Enneagram and MBTI®. Please visit

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