5 Courage Myths at Work

Debunking a few myths about courage in the workplace.

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 to stand on the strength of your 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 the U.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.

 Myth #5 You don’t have to hit the bulls-eye very often to be courageous. Awakening your personal courage begins with learning to stop and reflect so that you live from the inside—the bull’s-eye of your true being. What’s an example of “the bull’s-eye of your true being?” Lin Carson is a scholastic baker in Denver. With a Ph.D. in Cereal Science and Chemistry, she knew the corporate road with Nestle or Kraft would eventually not fulfill her unique ideas. A true example of the courageous spirit of the female visionary, Lin wanted to open her own bread café and develop recipes with shorter baking times so customers could purchase them all day long hot from the oven. As a result, she is reaping intrinsic rewards from her efforts and she’s on her way to achieve the results that lead to long-term self-fulfillment.


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