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Want to Be More Courageous at Work? Get to Know Yourself and Your Environment!

Demonstrating courage at work is easier said than done. For many people, this requires stepping out of their comfort zone and daring to be different. Daring to speak up, daring to take action, daring to make an unpopular decision. But demonstrating courage is part and parcel of a manager’s responsibilities. Courage is an essential managerial skill that can be developed through self-knowledge. Here are some factors that can influence displays of courage.

Factors that hold you back

  • Fear. Fear of upsetting others, fear of demoralizing others, fear of hurting others, fear of not being able to follow through, fear of confrontation, fear of conflict, etc.
  • Conflict resolution style. There are five conflict resolution styles:
    1. Avoiding (I lose, you lose)
    2. Competing (I win, you lose)
    3. Accommodating (I lose, you win)
    4. Compromising (I win a little, you win a little)
    5. Collaborating (I win, you win)

While there’s a time and a place for each conflict resolution style, some of them can lead to the manager taking a step back from situations that require courage. A person with an avoiding style might seek to sidestep thorny issues and will tend to withdraw when conflict arises. A person with an accommodating style, who wants to be accepted and liked, will be inclined to avoid conflict in order to keep the peace.  

  • Personality. Personality is not a predictor of someone who will lack courage. However, certain personality traits, for example, extreme sensitivity, a docile nature, and a strong need to please, can make it more difficult for certain people to express courage.
  • A work environment with little tolerance for mistakes will result in people being afraid to tackle situations that require courage, for fear of failure.
  • Courage AND benevolence. Instinctively we might think courage and benevolence are mutually exclusive, but the two mesh quite well. Tackling difficult issues requires courage, but it is possible to do so with consideration, respect, and kindness.
  • The lack of an organizational vision can keep managers in the dark and limit acts of courage. Poorly defined roles and responsibilities also create a feeling of insecurity about saying or doing things that require courage.

When it comes to taking action, we need to find something that will help maintain our momentum. It’s actually easier to tackle situations that require courage when our decisions are aligned with our values. Like a beacon, these values light the way toward the things that are important to us and can provide the impetus we need to find the courage to speak up, take action, or simply be.

Some factors that bolster your courage

Psychological security at work is of paramount importance in creating a climate of trust. My colleague, François Rabbat, Ph.D. and organizational psychologist, explains that “psychological security is the belief shared by team members that they can express their opinions or ideas without incurring punishment, excessive criticism, or contempt from others.” Demonstrating courage at work implies making yourself vulnerable and stepping out of your comfort zone—and that generally requires some effort.

Self-knowledge is also essential to the ability to demonstrate courage when needed. Identifying your vulnerabilities, values, and strengths puts you on excellent footing. So, don’t hesitate to hire a coach to help you identify and explore your understanding of your core values, draw up a list of your competencies, or even walk you through a 360-degree evaluation at work! These are all ways that will help you to increase your self-knowledge, identify your blind spots, and help you feel more comfortable showing courage. 

When faced with a situation that requires courage, I encourage you to think about your answers to the following questions with benevolence:

  • What are the barriers (values, beliefs, beliefs, fears, etc.) that prevent you from acting with courage?
  • What are the gains or benefits of not showing the required courage?
  • What are the unintended consequences of not showing courage?
  • What are the elements, contexts, or factors that could make it easier to express your courage?
  • Think about a time when you wished you’d been more courageous. What did that experience teach you? Think back on what happened and describe in detail the actions you would have liked to take. What will you do differently the next time you’re faced with a similar challenge?

To conclude, if we want to understand what drives us forward or holds us back, we need to have a clear understanding of ourselves and our environment.

Remember: Courage is a skill we develop along the way.

Take courage!

Empower your managers today

Equip your managers with the essential knowledge and tools to not only master key skills for their roles but also lead their teams with courage and empathy.

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Ève-Marie Poulin PhD, Organizational Psychologist
  • Partner | Talent Assessment & Onboarding

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