Leadership in Reactive Times

It’s better to be a crystal to shine for a moment and risk getting shattered to bits than live a hundred years as a tile on a roof.

— Chinese saying

DURING PROACTIVE TIMES, leaders generally become advocates of the causes they deem critical and then design the objectives to achieve those goals, such as implementing knowledge transfer programs, pushing innovation and creativity or becoming a promoter for equality. In REACTIVE crises, such as when strategic employees exit because a CEO is hired from “outside the industry” to replace the “old-timer” or when there’s an unforeseen takeover and the workforce scrambles in uncertainty—denial seeps in to shut down the organization’s spirit.

You don’t have to be at spiritual odds to awaken your workforce to courageous leadership. Extracting the gifts of courage gives the organization its life force. Deceptively simple, the overwhelming challenge lies in the organization’s level of clarity about courage learning. One size of courage does not fit all. “Clarity may be the cousin to courage,” said Carol Alm, a business consultant.

Boost Backbones
Identifying the merits of courageous leadership may initially jolt the workforce. Why? Generally, courage is associated with being a hero or doing something amazing. The human spirit has fallen asleep to “everyday courage” (not an oxymoron).

Our culture misses opportunities at home and in school curriculums to teach courageous applications. Educational training in courage skills for college and high school students transfer easily to work competencies, but the wherewithal to live a courageous life remains scant.

“I am constantly looking for resources to increase confidence levels in students, said Kasmin Boswell, Ph.D., college professor. “Unfortunately, courage isn’t something that’s mandated in individuals’ lives. Without its acquisition, living is much more difficult.” She confronts her students to think about how they can exponentially triumph over their past challenges, such as moving out of comfort into growth opportunities.

The real test is to awaken and unleash this forgotten energy (“virtue” in Latin, means “energy”), such as recognizing the “first red flag, eyes wide open” response rather than turning a blind eye. When you know something is tugging at your spirit to take action, why wait for three red flags? The “first red flag” insight is a difficult one to react to because you want to believe that what you know won’t prevail, such as when everyone but you receives a new Blackberry.

The job of leaders is to boost the workforce’s backbone, and self-esteem is one of those courage ingredients. When graduates close the door to numbers and letters of school grades, they step into a new phase of learning called “designing your resume.” Chances are, they will face the first courage experience that summons their self-esteem when a new project is launched and dynamic peers force them to be independent thinkers. Missteps perpetuate regrets. Lifelong learning builds character.

Courage dilemmas guised in a paradox can also be a pivotal opportunity to strengthen learning. Executive coach Megan Neyer, Ph.D. of Total Performance Systems recognizes the courage paradox dilemma when she observes a CEO juggling the challenge of day-to-day complexities between taking risks and achieving the vision. “Through mindful courage, the CEO can resolve this paradox by being realistic about the brutal facts while also having faith in the workforce’s productivity,” Neyer said. “Becoming stuck in one side or the other of the paradox (being too focused or foolhardy), the CEO will limit the range of available possibilities, and then, rigid thinking reigns.” When this happens, the organization’s heart constricts, limiting the opportunities for expansion. Sony Corporation believes otherwise…stay tuned. 

Sandra Ford Walston is known as The Courage Expert and innovator of StuckThinking™. She is an organizational effectiveness consultant, speaker, internationally published author of bestseller COURAGE, trainer and courage coach. She is certified in the Enneagram and MBTI®.

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