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Enabling courage

Last week I wrote a post about courage.

Courage is a skill – an essential skill if you want to lead.

There are two stories I shared and having some courage was the ingredient that was the difference between success and failure.

But it was not the only ingredient missing. Or you can say an extra ingredient was present. Another crucial difference.

It was a feeling. The feeling that

Failure is not an option

The problem with that feeling is when failure is not an option, often the only rational thing to do is… nothing.

It is hard to have courage when you cannot fail, simply because it is not safe to take risks. And often, taking risks is exactly what you need to do.

Did I take risks? No, I kept on the original plan. I tried to persist, to outwork it, I could not see any other way.

Was there another way? Yes, there was. I think it wasn’t that hard. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so maybe we would not have found that even if we tried. What is most important however is – there was no try.

You miss all the chances you are not taking.

In the end, a lot was lost because of that. A lot of trust was lost that summer, and a big part of it was never regained.

Maybe you are already a leader

A team leader.
A Manager.
A Lead Developer.
A Senior Developer (yes, Senior developers lead all the time!)

Courage is essential skill for yourself.

But it is not enough.

Leadership is about developing others.

You need to make sure there is an environment where people can take a risk.

Because taking calculated risks is exactly what you need.

When you don’t take risks, you get “I wish I had” moments.

A Safe environment

You need to be allowed to fail.

For that you need psychological safety, which can be defined like this:

“Ability to take risks and feel safe, everybody can make a mistake, ask a question or offer an idea”

Imagine a team when the above is not true! Will it be a good team? Not very likely.

Strive to make an environment when people are willing to take a chance, willing to show courage.

“But if I fail, say something stupid, I will lose trust!”

Why would you ask that? Simple – because you are afraid. What is more important?

“If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it.”

Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Your job as a leader is now simple: stand in front of your team fears.

Simple, not easy to do

The first thing to do is, of course, to set an example.

Yes, I contradict myself. Didn’t I just write that having courage for yourself is not enough?

Yet, if you do not show courage, why are your teammates going to bother?

In a team environment, a lot of the situations when you do show courage are connected to your team.

Imagine using these four phrases:

  • “I do not know”
  • “I made a mistake”
  • “I am sorry”
  • “I need help”

Using them requires some courage. Yet they are not easy for leaders to use.

There is a dangerous myth that leaders should appear confident. Confident, bold leaders do not use those phrases, because it makes them appear weak.

Unfortunately, it also means they are fake. And this means this confidence is also fake, its not the real thing.

Suppose you made a mistake, but do not say one of the four phrases. And now questions start to arise!

  • What are you going to say instead?
  • What are others going to think about you?
  • What are you going to do about it?

This is a lot of energy and thinking wasted. If you think about those, it is likely others (your team) do it as well.

Or you can own your mistake and not waste that time and energy. This is not a weakness, people will recognize you need the courage to admit these.

These four phrases come from by Tochka 2, I encourage you to check their site because it’s awesome!

What about others?

How do you react when a team member makes a mistake?

Do you held it against him/her? This will make it harder for the person to take a risk in the future.

So close your eyes, let it slide? Is this the standard you wish to set?

You need to hold that person accountable, yet remind that person you continue to trust him or her.

What you want is to make it easy for that person to come to you and say they made a mistake.

“Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”

Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

What if it doesn’t work?

There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

As most absolute statements this one is of course, not completely true.

What it reminds me every time is this – look for faults in myself first, in others – second. Simple, but so hard to do sometimes…

And yes, sometimes it will not work, even after you have tried everything. You will have to accept that risk or admit the desire to avoid it got the better of you. Of course, what you should not be is reckless – some risks are not worth taking.

A few last words

This is a big and complex topic, one that you need not read blog posts but mostly practice.

Like many of my other posts here, I have written this mostly for myself – to clear my mind and put my thoughts in writing.

I love to read and here are the books that ignited my thoughts, perhaps it will ignite something in your mind as well?

I have written about The Five Dysfunctions of a Team before here. Its a great book and one I recently re-read again. I will probably write an in-depth review of the other two books as well here, so… stay tuned!

Thank you for reading.