People have different definitions of courage and that is because there are different kinds of courage.
There was a post the other day that seemed pretty innocuous to me. There was a picture of three men, a manager and two of his team members, all in business attire. They were sitting together in a row on what looked like a plane. The manager wrote that he always required his team to be dressed in business attire, even on transcontinental flights. The reason? They represented the company and you never know who you will be sitting next to.
Reading through the comments it was surprising to see so many negative comments aimed not only at the idea but at the person that posted the picture. There were over 5000 “thumbs up”, but also about 4500 “thumbs down.” Even more surprising was so much of the thumbs down response were attacks or personal, not just disagreeing.
It is important for leaders to cultivate a culture where ALL opinions can be expressed safely without fear of being ridiculed or belittled. It is not only important because no one should be fearful to express themselves, it is also important because you never know where your next good idea will come. It could come from that person that is always verbal and unafraid to express themselves or it could come from that quiet, shy team member. Fear squashes creativity.
There is the courage that runs into burning buildings and there is the courage that means you are willing to stand alone with your opinions. There is the courage that shows itself in battle and there is the courage that doesn’t look for approval, but acts on their values.
Here are some things you can do to promote courage:
- Define courage for your team—this seems silly maybe, but part of leadership is education. People define courage differently. Let people know how you define it and explore how they define it. Reach a common understanding. Then use that definition daily.
- Set expectations for courageous behavior in your organization. Some of the rules we see in classroom work really great—show respect for others, listen when others are talking, be safe, be kind, be honest, etc.
- Model that behavior
- Celebrate when you see it and overtly reinforce it.
The good news is courage is contagious, so practice it and spread it!