Foreword by Daryl Conner

Listen to the interview between Sandra and Daryl.


The backdrop for FACE IT! is the professional environment, but its application reaches far beyond that setting. Its ultimate impact is at thehuman level, not the employee level. As you read it, I suggest you use your job as apoint of reference, not as a boundary to stay within. This book is an invitation to explore courage in all aspects of your life, not just where you are employed. Although there is indeed truth in advertising here, in the sense that this book will help you address issues hindering professional advancement; however, that is not why I was attracted to it. I enthusiastically recommend what is presented here because of its broader message: The world is in desperate need of more courageous people to serve as the architects for humanity’s future. It’s not easy, but it’s doable, and we must get on with it.

Sandra has done us all a service by crafting this marvelous book on courage. She combined penetrating insight with a reader-friendly style to create a resource that furthers our understanding of courage and its place in our lives. I’m particularly struck by how she wove the threads of her discourse in such a way that the reader is both galvanized by the notion of becoming more courageous and sobered by how difficult the journey is.

Look elsewhere if you seek an easy path to follow—Sandra doesn’t offer one. This book is a significant contribution to the courage literature precisely because it doesn’t shy away from the subject’s true essence nor succumb to a simplistic formula for its attainment. It is informative and inspiring, but not in lieu of being confrontive and challenging. She includes all four elements in her recipe for this compelling cake:

  • Her thorough research of the subject will leave most readers much better informed.
  • She does this in a way that makes courage seem like a real, yet doable, stretch, which means for those who are ready to pay the price, this is an inspiring read.
  • The most confrontive thing you can do with someone is to hold up a mirror so they see something about themselves that is less than flattering in their own eyes. This book invites you to look deep within yourself to see what aspects of courage may or may not be prevalent.
  • If you finish this book and aren’t taken by how formidable it is to live up to the twelve courageous actions outlined, then go back and start over. Sandra describes a challenging path, but if it was a commodity everyone was capable of, it wouldn’t be the differentiator we all believe it truly is.
  • The basic premise of this book is that what holds you back on the job is the same as what hinders achievement of any important aspiration—the reluctance to face and live a courageous life. Given how important courage is to our well-being, it is surprising how few resources exist on the subject. Sandra Walston provides welcome relief through this carefully-laid-out exploration into the true nature of courage. She presents the pursuit of courage as a worthwhile endeavor without sugarcoating its inherent challenges…something many others have tried, yet failed, to accomplish.

In my opinion, there are far too many speeches, seminars, webinars, podcasts, articles, and books about courage that not only tout it as a laudable characteristic but also claim how easy it is to access. Isn’t it fascinating how our species will conspire to make any coveted attribute easy to acquire? The trouble is, whatever the trait, if it’s highly valued, it’s also inherently scarce. That doesn’t stop us, however—we want to maintain a high value on our aspirations while also ensuring widespread access for everyone. It rarely works out as intended. This means, while courage remains a “potential” for everyone, it becomes a “reality” for only those willing to pay the price.

Take MBAs, for example. There was a time when having an MBA meant a job applicant would be exceptionally well prepared, enormously qualified and highly sought after. Then they became so commonplace that they were no longer differentiating but, rather, expected. Were students really better prepared, or were requirements relaxed somewhat, allowing more people through the gate without as much effort as formerly required?

When the goal becomes having more people carrying a label at the expense of the designation’s integrity, the attribute becomes commoditized. Of course, with commoditization comes devaluation of the label being applied. I fear we have done this with our overuse of the term courage.

One way to judge whether a cherished characteristic has been devalued is to notice how often it’s mentioned. Case in point: It is hard to absorb more than a half hour of TV or radio programming without hearing commentary about someone’s courageous behavior. It is common now to hear an individual described as “courageous” when he or she actually did something difficult, adventuresome, or even bold. Upon close examination, however, the circumstance didn’t require much actual courage. That is, the action taken never really put the person much at risk.

Courage means acting despite unsafe circumstances and is in no way associated with security and assurances. Sometimes the situation involves external intimidators (people, things, new ideas, etc.). Other times, it’s something inside us that’s terrifying…anxieties and distress that reside just below the surface or that may be buried deep within our psyche. Regardless of the point of origin, courage is about knowing the obstacles that hold you back, and then taking action.

People who find the courage to move forward face a difficulty such as two examples from the book: challenging an uncomfortable truth or instilling self-discipline. They choose to do so because of an overriding need to live up to an internal image they have of themselves. They don’t lack awareness of the consequence they face; they are simply more driven to be the person they aspire to be.

In our effort to make it easier to be courageous, we run the risk of discounting the concept to the point that it is unrecognizable. It may be that the only thing in shorter supply than courage itself is a proper understanding of what it really is. Reading FACE IT! will close this gap.

Daryl Conner

Daryl R. Conner is chairman of Conner Partners®, an Atlanta-based consulting firm that specializes in transformation implementation. He is an internationally recognized leader in organizational change and serves as an advisor and mentor to senior executives around the globe. His work is built on a strong foundation of research, extensive consulting experience, a master’s degree in psychology, and a deep spiritual focus. He has authored three books—Managing at the Speed of Change (Random House, 1993), Leading at the Edge of Chaos (John Wiley & Sons, 1998) and Project Change Management (McGraw-Hill: New York, 2000).

February 2011