Part one of this article (ISHN October 2006) focused on the first five of ten courage-building actions:
  1. Control anticipation;
  2. Expect self-honesty;
  3. Embrace change;
  4. Communicate courageously; and,
  5. Be creative. Let go of past successes.

This article discusses actions six through ten:


6) Unstick your positions

The field of science is replete with stories of scientists whose inventions were rejected, and they themselves emotionally discredited, by their purported logical peers. This runs the gamut from Galileo to Dr. Barry Marshall, who in the end of the twentieth century discovered that the H.pylori bacteria causes gastrointestinal ulcers.

Eighteenth century German physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote, “It often takes more courage to change one’s opinion than to stick to it.”

Knowledge continually grows. Yet I’ve heard otherwise intelligent professionals haughtily remark, “If it can’t be measured, then it doesn’t exist.” While I agree with this statement in principle, the assumption here is that we can currently measure everything with our most up-to-date technology. Taken as a statement, this would mean the electron didn’t exist until scientists were able to “discover” it in 1897.

Beware of making overly proud or definitive statements. These can be associated with limited understanding or with being driven by fear. Be willing to consider that what you think you know may no longer be valid in these changing times. Keep an open mind to foster new ideas.


7) Know when to stand firm

There is an ancient warrior expression, “Be water, not rock; Be rock, not water.” Know when the situation calls for being rock — standing firm in the face of fears, threats, pressures to drop what you know is right, what you believe will work. Conversely, identify when to be water — moving around fears, not allowing yourself to be derailed by others’ discomfort with change.


8) Solicit dissent

The most courageous leaders are comfortable with others not agreeing with everything they undertake. Go beyond just tolerating disagreement, disgruntlement or dissent. Actively solicit it.

See and enlist dissenters as information resources who can support recalibrating your plans to make them more effective or accepted. It’s better to privately find out from one what many others may be thinking but not willing to say to your face. I’ve seen significantly powerful change spawned when workers who are dissenters become enlisted as peer change agents for improvements in safety actions, attitudes and skills.


9) Be willing to be invisible

Being invisible means not giving in to the desire for recognition. While most people crave approval or admiration at least to some degree, it can get in the way of effective leadership.

Not trying to gain recognition means you often win the greater prestige of being seen as a doer. Seeking approval usually doesn’t pay off long-term, because trying too hard to impress others looks weak. It can also divert you from taking difficult, and necessary, actions.

Just as important, a “look what I just accomplished” posture can impede team spirit. Instead, if you give up power, you gain the greater power of seeing others embrace a strong safety mission.


10) Be a warrior, not a worrier

Yes, it’s important to analyze and strategically think things through in advance. But don’t let that be a reason to avoid action, overanalyze or become paralyzed by what-ifs. Change and improvement are the bottom line. At the end of the day, do people live and work more effectively, safer, with greater satisfaction and less stress?

Trying one thing new that results in some improvement is better than thinking about 20 actions you never take. You don’t have to risk your entire budget; pilot new interventions judiciously. But the most courageous leaders are continually trying out potential improvements to at least a small degree.

Professionals become tentative and less effective when they allow worry to consume them. They typically become rigid, unable to take risks, and incapable of profiting from opportunity. Staff and superiors will usually notice their self-doubt and question their leadership.

Let your worries spur you into action. First, attack those tasks you fear. For instance, instead of being frozen by worrying about lack of job security, do something positive. Read a chapter from a professional career planning book; begin decision analysis by writing out the pros and cons of a career change; make an appointment with your boss to clarify your place in the organization; speak to a confidant to get your fears off your chest and get an outside perspective.

We live in a time when courageous leadership is needed more than ever. By practicing courage in actions, you can help improve everyone’s performance, strength and safety.


Sidebar: Action strategies

Practice something out of your range of comfort. Note your discomfort, but don’t give up. This new activity can range from the simple — eating or playing a sport with your opposite hand, or changing the order in which you dress — to the more complex — learning to program a computer or to speak before a large group.

Take reasonable risks. Be willing to stand by your opinions, but be equally able to admit when you have steered far off course. Have the courage to look awkward in public. Try new things and smile at yourself if you feel slightly foolish. Be willing to say, “I don’t understand.”

Monitor yourself closely when you are afraid, threatened or angry. Catch yourself before you lose control of what you say or do.

Has the fear of losing your job ruined your ability to take reasonable risks? Mentally consider giving up job security.

Practice at least one attitude control method that helps foster a more courageous mind, even when things are going smoothly.

Spread recognition. Silently congratulate yourself on the job you are doing, even when others get credit. Notice if this approach results in more vigorous staff commitment and efforts.

Think differently; try something new. Apply the unknown to what you know.

Think of delegating as helping people grow — both your subordinates and you. Expert leaders report that the opportunity to develop others as leaders is a major perk. Doing it all yourself is the logical result of not trusting your staff enough to delegate.


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