There is much written on courage – a theme which has inspired some of the most brilliant people of our time to create timeless quotes:
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. – Nelson Mandela.
(I’m sure Mandela would have attributed this bravery to women too, had he been challenged…)
When discussing ‘authentic’ communication and leadership in our work with both individuals and with groups, the subject of courage is a central theme and one that elicits much debate. How do we speak courageously, to have the honest and truthful conversations that very often don’t happen across our organisations?
Sheryl Sandberg describes a way of communicating ‘authentically’ by recognising that there is no ultimate ‘truth’ out there – only ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’. She offers the phrase ‘I believe…’ as a way of positioning and sharing our own truth, as well as asking for other’s truths.
The themes of truth, fear, risk, honesty, vulnerability, strength and personal exposure are all connected to courage. My experience has been that there is strong opinion as to how much, or often how little, of any one of these is sensible to demonstrate and very much depends on the culture of the organisation and the actions of those at the top.
So how can we usefully measure up how much is good thing and when might we be taking it too far? Walt Disney described courage as ‘the main quality of leadership’ due to its implication of taking at least some risk, and there is no doubt risk certainly comes into it.
In internal mentoring and internal coaching conversations, where we hope to help someone gain clearer purpose and insight, we need courage to be able to share our experiences and ourselves in an honest and open way. Describing how we misjudged a critical conversation with a client or key stakeholder can provide rich learning for our mentee but also requires us to expose our vulnerability.
We also ask for courage of our mentee/coachees in how we challenge them to think out loud in previously unchartered waters and to venture to places where neither of us may know the answer.
The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud. – Coco Chanel
By bringing more of our selves to any conversation – and by that I mean the willingness to think out loud when we don’t know the answer, share what we notice, tell our stories and voice our opinion – we are being courageous and in being so, inspiring courage in others.
Brene Brown, who so brilliantly introduced us to the power of vulnerability, also captures with simplicity and finesse the power of ‘ordinary courage’ –
In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage”. – Brene Brown
I love this idea of ‘ordinary’ courage in the sense that we can all apply a little of it, with practice, every day. And, just like working with someone we don’t like or saying no to someone we deeply respect – both of which we can find difficult – the more we practice, the better we get.
Strength from within has long been our strapline. Consider what you can do more or less of to tap into your inner strength, to speak openly and honestly about who you are and about your experiences. By sharing more of yourself aloud, you may be surprised to learn more about your self and about your colleagues too.