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Do You Have a Courageous Mindset?

Plan to be Brave!


The start of a new year always brings with it a clean slate, a new beginning, a fresh start. It also brings New Year’s resolutions – a commitment to doing something differently. I hope you set 2019 New Year’s resolutions. Do you have a plan for achieving them? Have you started taking action against that plan?

Often our New Year’s resolutions are things we have tried to accomplish in the past but have been unsuccessful at doing. For example, perhaps there is a project you have wanted to complete at work (e.g., reconnect with clients you haven’t been in touch with for more than two years) or at home (e.g., install a remote-controlled lighting system in your home) that you have not yet achieved. Perhaps you have wanted to learn a new skill or discontinue a negative habit or replace the habit with a healthier one but have yet to achieve it.

Alternatively, you may have been asked to lead a very visible, high risk, high reward initiative at work. While the upside sounded great, you knew there is a large downside if the project did not go well. As a result, you decided not to take on the challenge.

The question is, why could we not achieve the objective we once thought was so important to us? Often, we just could not muster up the courage — the courage to change something that has remained the same for many years, decades or even a lifetime; the courage to take a risk; the courage to know we might fail; and the courage to make ourselves vulnerable.

So, how do we conquer our fear, take the risk, and find the courage to start the journey to successfully achieving our objective? How do we build a courageous mindset that will propel us forward, helping us to get started, to overcome challenges along the way, and to stick with achieving our objective (resolution) until we have succeeded?

The Need for a Courageous Mindset is Everywhere!

In the corporate world, some organizations go to great lengths to communicate and reinforce the importance of demonstrating courage. These organizations create a culture of courage recognizing and rewarding brave behaviors and actions, such as employees who share their ideas and feedback with the hope of seeing positive change. These organizations are creating a culture of courage.

Demonstrating a courageous mindset is also often found in our individual professional lives, such as when we are searching for a new job or considering a career change, or when we need to have a difficult conversation with someone. This is a courageous mindset that comes from within ourselves.

I’ll briefly discuss both the organizational and professional contexts in which the courageous mindset may be demonstrated.

Creating an Organizational Culture of Courage

When I started my last corporate role, I very quickly found myself reviewing the organization’s competency model which had just been drafted earlier that year. Since the organization was undergoing a large-scale transformation, it was the perfect time to include the behaviors that the organization was ready to expect from its employees. If the commitment was visible throughout the organization (e.g., role-modelled by leadership, employees recognized for demonstrating courageous behaviors) and the commitment was sustained over time, the new behaviors would become a part of the new culture following the transformation.

In my first few days in the role, I heard what I have heard many times before in other organizations - leaders said they wanted employees to speak up, to share their ideas and to provide their input and feedback. They wondered why this wasn’t happening already.

It is not uncommon for employees (at all levels) to hesitate from sharing their feedback, ideas and views, citing a variety of reasons including that they don’t feel it is “safe,” they aren’t recognized for doing so, they do not feel “heard,” and their ideas are not acted upon so “why bother.”

Particularly given the fact that the organization was going through a major internal transformation, adding courage to the competency model with the requisite sustained leadership commitment, role modeling, reinforcement, and recognition from senior leaders would help employees feel safer and be more likely to take the risk demonstrating more courage, and so on. Maybe, then, demonstrating courage could become part of the fabric of the organization, part of the culture.

Taking risks and doing things differently than we’ve done before is how businesses progress, and it’s how we as professionals evolve.

Building a Professional Mindset of Courage

Having a courageous mindset also plays a key role in our own professional lives. As we build this mindset, we will be propelled into starting, continuing and completing those objectives we have identified as our 2019 New Year’s resolutions.

That’s what I did last year with one of my 2018 objectives. Just one year ago, after 25+ years of a great career in “Corporate America,” and having had a broad range of leadership roles in organizations varying in industry, size and level of maturity, I decided to fulfill an objective I had made 11 years prior when I created my LLC - to work in my field of passion as an external consultant. I determined that 2018 was going to be my year - I was going “all in” on my consulting practice. I was leaving a world I knew well. At the time, I was leaving a visible and strategic role with a manager, team and group of colleagues I loved working with.

Although I was going to do what I truly wanted to do in a field that I have always been so passionate about, it still took an enormous amount of courage. But I followed the guidance I’m sharing with you today, and I’m happy to say, I built and then could demonstrate my courageous mindset!

I hope that you, too, can demonstrate your courage in 2019 as you achieve your objective(s), or face any professional or personal situation that will require courage.

Below are a few scenarios that I continually hear about when speaking with my clients when courage may be needed. Perhaps, these are situations that you, too, may find yourself in.

  • Courage to Have a Difficult Conversation: If you have to have a difficult conversation with your manager, team member, or colleague, it may need courage, and fast. Prepare and practice. Consider your desired outcome, and think about what will get you there. It’s amazing how accepting ownership and accountability for something that went wrong often results in forgiveness and respect that far exceeds your highest expectations.

  • Courage to Conquer a Large Project, Step by Step: If you are working on a large-scale project or change effort, the keys to building courage are planning your approach; gaining support from stakeholders, both individually and as a group; taking a phased or step-by-step approach to demonstrate wins; building your credibility and self-confidence; and spreading the word formally and informally to gain expanded support and buy-in, as appropriate.

  • Courage to Align Work with Professional Aspirations: If you are searching for your next role that is more aligned to your passions or future aspirations, or if you are considering a career change, don’t minimize the amount of courage you need. With that said, stay true to yourself—be candid about areas in which you’re strong and those in which you aren’t. Stay open to receiving hard-to-hear feedback, even when you don’t get the job you believe you deserve. You put yourself out there and made yourself vulnerable, but there are a lot of learnings you will walk away with that have made you wiser and that will make the next experience even better.

Courage as a Differentiator

Whether you are currently a leader in an organization managing a change effort, a professional searching for your next career step, or a parent, family member, friend or anyone engaged in a daily life activity that is new, difficult, or risky, there is work to be done to build your courage and to have it available as you set out to reach any objective, large or small.

Some of the work you need to do is an inside job. It requires, first, identifying what exactly is holding you back and, then, determining how best to overcome it. Some of the work is practice! Take small steps, practicing on low risk activities and projects. Build confidence with these small wins. Small risks and wins lead to bigger and even bigger risks and wins. With each win will come greater degrees of confidence and the belief that you can and will do it again! By engaging in all of this work, your courageous mindset will become stronger over time.

So, go for it! Be brave! Select a 2019 objective to tackle:

  • Determine the degree to which courage (or lack of courage) is holding you back from achieving the objective

  • Plan for how you will accomplish the objective

  • Determine when your courageous mindset will be needed as you progress towards your objective

  • Put courage into action as soon and as often as you need it! 

Just think about how accomplished you will feel once you have built this courageous mindset and completed the objective you had wanted to in the past but couldn’t. You will have differentiated yourself from others, set yourself apart from those who may have wanted to achieve an objective for a long time, but did not have the courage to. Just think, you might even serve as a role model to them. You might even have provided them with the courage to try. . . and then they tell two friends, and so on, and so on. . .

Key Takeaways

  • Within organizations, creating a culture of courage can lead to employee behaviors that support an organizational change initiative or transformation. To become part of the culture, "courageous" behaviors need to be expected, reinforced, recognized and rewarded; they should be role modelled by leaders, demonstrated each and every day, and woven into the way work is done.

  • Courage is an inside job. Each of us needs to build courage at our own pace, in our own way, to overcome our unique challenges, to achieve our personal and professional goals, and to conquer our New Year's resolutions. What seems risky to one individual and/or makes one person feel vulnerable may not feel that way to someone else. We can look to others for inspiration, as role models, and for support, but we need to do our own work at building the courage, one small step at a time, each and every day.

  • To build your courage, practice by taking small steps - with small risks and small wins, followed by bigger risks and bigger wins. Plan your approach for achieving your goals, thinking carefully about the tough obstacles and how you will tackle them using the courage you have built. Celebrate your success!

  • Courage is a differentiator. It will set you apart from others. You will feel proud of yourself for accomplishing your goal of leveraging the courage you have worked so hard to build. Others will look to you for inspiration and may decide that they, too, want to conquer their fears by building courage and attacking their goals.

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