Teaching the Attributes of Courage

One cannot discover new oceans until he [she] has courage to lose sight of the shore.

Most people have differing opinions about who has courage and how they got it. Is it learned or innate? Do you maneuver in and out depending on the circumstance at stake or can you keep advancing your level of courage consciousness? The training department’s viewpoint matters. Extracting courageous leadership from courageous figures of the past can help define what can be applied in training and how they can be used to achieve results.

“Much of my life I thought you were either courageous or you weren’t. But, courage is being displayed everywhere, and one size courage does not fit all,” states John Jackson, adjunct associate professor, marketing and strategic management at CentralQueenslandUniversity in Australia. He highlights a few courage distinctions displayed by famous and everyday people:

  • “Mother Theresa had the courage to work for many years with the poor of India in what most people would regard as a hopeless no-win situation.
  • Nelson Mandela had the courage to take on the apartheid system, but not to renounce armed resistance.
  • Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King had the courage to champion and live non-violent resistance.
  • Winston Churchill had the courage to do whatever it took to rid the world of Hitler and Nazism (or as a historian friend of mine put it: ‘only a bastard as big as Churchill could have defeated a bastard as bad as Hitler’).
  • My good friend David had the courage to retire at 35 years of age to devote himself ‘to the Divine’.
  • My Dad’s nickname at school was ‘Chokey Jackson’ because he had the courage to put so much into the 400 meter run that he would choke from exhaustion. Later on in life he took on the role of running an orphanage in Africa.”

Courage is generally associated with being a hero. Jackson continues, “I am no hero. Most of the time my most courageous act at work was to champion peace and harmony. But as Aristotle would remind us, virtue in this instance is finding the balance between being a strong peacemaker and being a strong push-over.” If employees have inklings about how to dial into their courage — great! That’s the first step. The learning curve escalates when you become adept at extracting the courage varieties permeating your environment and then honoring them.

Teaching the Attributes of Courage

Begin the training process to discover the individual or the organizational definition of courage. Many people define courage around convictions/values, taking risks, speaking up or overcoming an illness. Chart these viewpoints and then take a step back and see how those beliefs are playing out in your organization. Ask your attendees a few important questions:

  1. Which of the 12 behaviors of courage (affirming strength and determination; confronting abuse; conquering fear; embracing faith; hurdling obstacles/taking risks; living convictions; manifesting vision; overcoming illness or loss; reflecting self-esteem; reinventing self; revealing vulnerability; speaking up) do you most relate to?
  2. List the top 3 choices as primary, secondary and tertiary.
  3. Review which behavior in your organization might be weighted and probe into what tacit behavior is not recognizable or simply missing.
    • Ask attendees how they perceive they bring their courage to work and how they demonstrate it for others to validate?
    • How is the larger organization designed to support courage action beliefs?
    • Where are the breakdowns within the organization that reveal lost courage (dispirited)?
    • What internal scripts play out when employees are challenged at work and what is the difference when they are deeply engaged in their passion (spirited)?
    • Do you believe your training division attempts to understand how your courage is uniquely wired and what you may need to do to boost its size?

If you are the training manager, based on the above feedback, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What can be done to teach how my workforce/organization demonstrates courage?
  2. What programs or coaching does my workforce need to ensure that their unique size of courage develops?
  3. What regrets (lost courage) would I like to do over and what is the theme or pattern to those misfortunes?
  4. What courageous acts will my peers and workforce celebrate and remember (noble legacy) when I transition out?

Fluid Courage
The work environment is riddled with uncomfortable and challenging issues. In the midst of all the required tasks plus last-minute scrambles, how can trainers flush out individual courage so that the organization surges in fluid courage? Jackson reveals how he integrates courage probing insights, “When I mentioned my discomfort at work with serious confrontations, Sandra courageously sent me The Ways of Transformation by Karlfried von Durkheim, which talked to me about ‘the dignity of daring…to let go our futile hankering after harmony…and the comfortable life.’ How did she know? She took the effort to read between the lines and to ‘listen intuitively’.” Ask and listen and you shall receive:

  • En-courage feedback — it takes courage to learn from others’ perspectives. To reverse employees who are risk averse or too shy to speak up wholeheartedly embrace on-going interactive dialogue through storytelling and establish a time for regular follow-up (then, celebrate those steps in advancement).
  • Acknowledge the power of honesty. Jackson mentioned a passage from The Way of Transformation. Here’s another segment of inspiration to ponder:

The woman or man who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times
 in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers her refuge and
comfort and encourages her old self to survive. Rather, she will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help her to risk herself, so that she may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it, this making of it a ‘raft that leads to the far shore’.

  • Confront your limitations and seek personal accountability.
  • Be proactive. “True courage is not measured by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart” (this sentence was on a flag draped on a building by Ground Zero).
  • Cross-check to review how you’re doing with your own courage context and courage quotient.

A portal to your heart opens when you strive for the best outcome. Why? The heart matures during different stages of courage development. Revelation allows you to be more self-conscious. Consciousness thrives in contemplation. Contemplation centers you in silence. Silence breeds insight. Insights augment learning.

Cultivate Courage Initiators

Training departments commit and recommit themselves to their workforce to form productive and accountable relationships. Identifying setbacks provides one opportunity to identify patterns along with honoring each stage of courage recognition. Courage evolves through openly inviting and boldly seeking its cultivation (referred to in my July 2010 article as “Genius in Gray Areas” ). Monitor your organization’s recognition of the courage initiators below and verify whether you

  • Face the facts: denial is saying “no” to courage
  • Quickly take action: swift to review worst-case scenarios
  • Keep stepping up: always move forward
  • Know the value of sacrifice and discipline: specifically declare an intent about what you want to happen
  • Value “courageous will:” if there’s a will there’s a way
  • Ask for the tough projects (the project no one wants): an esteem that allows you to take on a high learning curve project or high risk management aptitude
  • Trouble shooting abilities: invite positive dissent
  • Express views in a timely manner: sensitivity to introverts/extraverts

This process not only reveals the truth about your workforce, it also eliminates unwanted debris such as undermining scripts that stall progress.

One day’s courage often predicts the next day’s expansion in creativity, inspiration, dedication, deeper engagement to the task, intensity, innovation and the willingness to share insights. Models of individual courage give others permission to grow. No longer immune to its energy, courage deposits allow your heart to exhibit genius—a residual every trainer seeks.

“The challenge,” says Lou Marines, president of Advanced Management Institute, “is to move beyond the sometime archaic and pedestrian thinking represented by such items as business myths and anecdotal observations that pass for wisdom.”

Courage leadership emerges naturally when human spirits come from their hearts not their heads. These authentic moments reveal the truth about learning and growing!

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