Courage at work

I’ve seen a lot of managers driven by fear at work. Fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of getting into trouble, fear of being judged and found wanting, fear that one of their team will outperform them, fear of conflict, fear of ending up at an employment tribunal, fear of losing their job. The list goes on and on.

This fear leads to some pretty unhelpful behaviours. Fearful bosses play upwards, trying to impress and please senior management whether or not it’s good for the organisation or their team. They try to do everything themselves, because nobody could possibly do it as well as they can (or worse still, some upstart might do it better). They avoid making decisions. They fail to manage perfomance effectively. They become bureaucratic, following the letter of company policy even when the end result is patently wrong. They fail to embrace change and creativity.

What’s needed instead of debilitating fear is a strong dose of courage. Courage however isn’t the absence of fear – boldly forging forward without the slightest regard for the consequences. At best that’s recklessness, and at worst it could be a sign of a personality disorder.  Courage is about taking action in spite of the fear.

Here are some of the attributes of courageous managers:

  • They say what needs to be said, even if it’s unpopular
  • They listen to what others have to say, even if it’s uncomfortable
  • They set clear standards for themselves and others, and hold people accountable
  • They use their judgement, rather than blindly follow rules
  • They delegate and give credit to others
  • They take risks
  • They continually look for better ways of doing things
  • They allow people (including themselves) to make mistakes
  • They are clear about their values and always act in accordance with them
  • They do the right thing no matter what

Courage clearly works hand in hand with wisdom. It also needs to be enacted with compassion. These are addressed in the other articles in this series: