Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Being Courageous In The Workplace

Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others - Winston Churchill

Lance Secretan states that courage is the foundational ingredient required for leaders.

It takes courage to speak your truth in environments that may not be ready to hear what you say.

It takes courage to admit you don’t know the answers, to apologize, to make mistakes, to be authentic, to take the first steps towards the unknown.

It takes courage to risk rejection, to face criticism, to rise above intimidation.

A recent conversation had me thinking about courage in the workplace.

What is it about the environments that we are in that makes it so scary to be our authentic selves?

Why does it take so much courage, in so many workplaces, to be truthful?

During that conversation, I realized that I have been in something of a privileged position in the workplaces that I have functioned in.

  1. Being the “trainer” in IT departments usually means being the least technical (and therefore dumbest) person in the room. Since expectations of my understanding are low, it’s easier for me to ask what appear to be obvious questions.
  2. The environments I’ve worked have rewarded that behavior from me – if not with the usual social awards such as promotions. The reward has been in the conversations after the fact and the relationships built as a result. The one-on-one thank yous for opening up the conversation. The built reputation for being a “truth-teller.” The meetings with new executives whose first sentence is often “they told me to come talk to you.”  And, occasionally, the changes that are made to projects or policy or activities as a result.  I didn’t see this when I was in the environment. Only now, with some distance, am I seeing the rewards for what they truly are.
  3. I was lucky to be in an environment in my most recent job where I wasn’t the only truth-teller.  I have been blessed with colleagues who were masters at taking the air out of the room by exposing the elephant in it.  We had each other’s backs.  That was a blessing.  Not many people have that in their workplace.
  4. My last boss encouraged my truth-telling and helped me find the language so that the message was more palatable.
  5. In my current work, people are paying me to be courageous and tell the truth to them. It’s my job to tell people when things are going off the rails. It’s my job to help them avoid disaster, or show them how the decisions they are making may not lead to the outcomes they expect.
  6. Since I’m also working as an outsider, it’s easier for me to be truthful.  I don’t have promotions or bonuses on the line.
  7. I’ve concluded that it is more important to me to work with people and organizations who are willing to engage openly and authentically than it is to keep a client no matter what.  I am the scarce resource.

I’ve come to recognize that it is easier in some environments to be courageous than in others.

It’s easier to be courageous when you aren’t gunning for promotion and you have people in the environment who have your back.

It’s easier to be courageous when you have immediate managerial support and you are working from a place of inspiration.

The next question – how can we create those environments for others?

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