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


Showing courage at work is easier said than done. For many people, it 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 showing courage at work is part and parcel of a manager’s responsibilities. Here are some factors that can influence displays of courage.

Factors that hold you back
  • Fear: Fear of upsetting, demoralizing, or hurting others; fear of not being able to follow through; fear of confrontation; fear of conflict, etc.
  • Conflict management style: There are five conflict management styles.
    1. Avoiding (lose-lose)
    2. Competing (I win, you lose)
    3. Accommodating (I lose, you win)
    4. Compromising (you win some, you lose some)
    5. Collaborating (win-win)

While there’s a time and a place for each style of conflict management, some of them can cause the manager to take a step back from situations that require courage. An “avoiding” manager, for example, may seek to sidestep thorny issues and tend to withdraw when conflict arises. An “accommodating” manager wants to be accepted and liked and will be inclined to avoid conflict in order to keep the peace.

  • Personality: While personality is not a predictor of someone who will lack courage, certain personality traits (for example, extreme sensitivity, a docile nature, and a strong need to please) can make it more difficult for some people to show courage.
  • A work environment that has little tolerance for mistakes will make people afraid to tackle situations that require courage, for fear of failure.
  • The lack of a vision statement can keep managers in the dark and limit acts of courage. The lack of organizational clarity also creates a feeling of insecurity when it comes to saying or doing things that require courage.

However, if it’s imperative that you take action in a given situation, find something that will help maintain your 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.

Factors that bolster your courage

Psychological security at work is of paramount importance in creating a climate of trust. My colleague, François Rabbat, PhD 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.” Showing courage at work implies making yourself vulnerable and stepping out of your comfort zone—and that generally requires effort.

Self-knowledge is also essential to the ability to show courage when needed. And the better you know yourself, the more comfortable you will feel when the time comes to show courage. 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 values, draw up a list of your competencies, or even walk you through a 360-degree evaluation. These are all things that will help you increase your self-knowledge, identify your blind spots, and help you feel more comfortable with showing courage.

As a coach, I encourage you to think about your answers to the following questions:

  • When faced with a situation that requires courage, what are your personal beliefs or values that:
    • prevent you from doing certain things?
    • open you up personally to one or more risks?
    • could help you to be more courageous?
  • How could you show courage without betraying your most deeply held beliefs and intrinsic values?
  • 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 what you wished you’d done. 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.

And remember: Nobody is born with the ability to show courage. It’s a skill we develop along the way. On that note, chin up!

Leading a Team with Courage and Empathy

Assist your team managers in taking ownership of the skills essential to their role and to the efficient management of their teams.

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

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