Integrity and courage are critical to leadership.
Courage has three features: a noble goal, personal risk, and choice.
I’m not talking about running into a burning building courage. I’m talking about Brené Brown’s:
”ordinary courage; the courage to be vulnerable and disappointed. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.”
When you accept the invitation to be a real leader, whether at work, at home, or in your community, you are accepting the condition of feeling uncomfortable. I would suggest that sometimes it is way more than uncomfortable – it is outright fear. Whatever you need courage for, you will have to walk through your fear to get to the other side.
Courage means that you:
Face your fear and just keep going afraid. Fear is a powerful emotion that can paralyze, derail and take over your life.
Persist. Keep going, find a way to overcome your obstacles.
Have a difficult conversation that you have been avoiding.
Take a calculated risk that considers trade-offs.
The Courage Plan
This article focuses on those acts of courage that require you to come face to face with your giant or fear, and it offers a road map on how to do it.
I suggest that taking courageous action needs a courage plan. Before acting, there are steps that will help embolden you. This plan helps prepare your mindset to take courageous action and for success.
A study on power found that those who prepared their minds for success were more likely to have success. The study focused on a pre-performance ritual, like writing about a time when you felt powerful. Study participants who performed this ritual were more successful in obtaining a job than those that didn’t have a similar ritual.
Athletes, performers and others in leadership positions have rituals to help them focus their minds on success, settle their nerves, and improve their performance.
Courage is not only needed for leadership in a work environment. It is needed for any situation that requires courage no matter how big or small that giant or fear is in your life.
Step One: Identify the problem.
The first step in the courage plan is the realization that something is not right in your world and you want to change it but, are afraid. It doesn’t have to be a big thing like running into a burning building, it can be leaving a paid job to stay home, going back to school after working for a while, getting married, having a baby, moving away from home, or changing hairdressers. Everyone has a different level of tolerance for change and fear. However, the motivator is dissatisfaction with something in your world, and requires courageous action of some sort to make a change.
Step 2: Gather information and analyze the situation.
As the dissatisfaction grows, so does the idea that there needs to be a change. But what needs to change? This is the analysis step – figuring it out. This process can be long and involved, or short and sweet; depending on what you decide needs to change.
The other reason I say that it is a planning process, is that it saves you from being impulsive, and prepares you mentally to accept the challenge and move forward.
Step 3: Next steps.
This is the how of change. Throughout this whole process of planning, you are becoming more comfortable with the idea of change while mentally preparing yourself for action. As you are becoming more comfortable with the idea, you begin to think about what you need to do to achieve your goal. You begin to plan your next steps:
For work – It may be a big initiative, a change in direction, or mandate, new branding, etc. It will involve all your staff to help make that change. As a leader, you will need to talk to staff and prepare a plan to help manage the process and expectations. When will you let them know? Are you ready for the questions they may have? How will you calm their fears? How will you calm your own fears? How will get them on board with the change? Who will be your champions?
Or, the change may be a difficult conversation, that will require courage; what do you need to discuss, what will you say?
For your personal life – Do you need to move? What do you need to do? What arrangements do you need to make?
Step 4: Decide – will you act or not?
As a part of your decision making you may also have to:
Prepare a backup plan.
Be mentally prepared to live with any decision you make.
Practice what you need to say or do to get the courage you need.
Take a deep breath, walk straight towards your fear and take action on your best plan.
At this point you need to decide; will you act or not? If you see this as the only option, it is because the status quo no longer suits you. All the planning you did has prepared you for action.
Or…. Maybe you are not ready yet, and need more time and mental preparation
Or…Maybe you’ve decided you don’t want the change after all
Or…Maybe the time isn’t right
These are all courageous decisions.
Ordinary courage needs you to be brave to act against the giants and fears in your life. The giants and fears may be people, places or things. Giants and fears say and do things to hurt, humiliate or scare. They leave you trembling, anxious and fearful because they are scary. As you take back your power with acts of courage, and face new giants and fears, they become less and less scary.
Each small act of courage builds upon the previous, until you become more comfortable with courageous acts. You are building your courage muscles.
Where real life meets theory
Here’s the thing… I learned about courage one step at a time. My journey started with a small act that was low risk, but it was still a giant that I had to face. Then I had more acts of courage that kept building upon the previous ones. With each step, act, and victory came more confidence. With each success I was able to face bigger giants and take on bigger acts of courage.
Step 1: Identify the problem:
One of my earlier acts of bravery was undergoing laser eye surgery. I longed for perfect vision without glasses or contacts. I wasn’t sure I could have it because my vision was so poor. It took me about two and a half years to make the decision to have surgery. I needed that much time to mentally prepare myself.
Step 2: Gather information and analyze the situation:
I had warring thoughts in my head: you want to be able to see without glasses or contacts, but what if something goes wrong.
To make an informed decision, I spent this time researching. How safe is the surgery? What are the risks? What do those who have gone through the surgery say?
I talked to people who had this surgery, and listened to their experiences, and outcomes, I asked how they prepared for it. I investigated the reputation and success rate of the clinics offering the surgery. I mentally prepared myself.
Step 3: Next steps.
I went for an assessment. Was I even a candidate? Yes, Yea! I decided after weighing the pros and cons that I would go ahead with the surgery.
Step 4: Decide – will you act or not?
Once I made the decision to have the surgery, I quickly booked the appointment, sooner than later, so I wouldn’t lose my nerve. I will never forget how I felt two weeks before my surgery; I started to feel physically ill, weak, panicked and terrified. I think that my friends were ready to run when they saw me, because I was asking them yet something else about laser surgery; how they overcame their fear, what it was like, etc., etc. etc. I thought about cancelling the surgery, but I was torn! I so wanted to see without glasses or contacts, and I was truly terrified.
On the day of the surgery, I felt like I was walking to my death. I tried to numb myself emotionally so that I could manage. The surgery turned out well and I love that I have vision without glasses/contacts. I think that this was one of the toughest experiences I went through, and it made me braver to conquer my fears.
While I didn’t feel a sense of power before the surgery, once it was over, I felt like I had taken back my power. It was like a switch was flipped. I became less afraid of giants in my life. I took that experience, because it was so profound, and have used it every single time as an example of success and power when I need to take another act of courage.
As I said before, the more experience you get being courageous, the more you grow and can take on bigger and bigger acts or courage.
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