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Do you put off making difficult decisions, check with your buddies or boss before taking a stand, struggle to choose, constantly second guess yourself, avoid having tough conversations with others about performance or other problems? If you do, you're certainly not alone. But don't expect your development need to be overlooked just because so many others struggle with the same problem.
Since Steve Jobs' passing, calls for more Jobs-like courage have become a steady drumbeat in management publications, so much so, that I wasn't surprised when an HR leader asked me in the middle of this crusade if it was really possible to coach "courage."
It's a great question. To answer it, we should explore what's behind our managers' failure to take bold action.
Generally, there are three common obstacles to courage -- personality, skill, and circumstances.
From the literature on personality, we know we're all different for a variety of reasons. Some are take-charge, "Johnny-on-the-spot," assertive types who find it easy to step up boldly and make difficult decisions with minimal information and without stressing about how people will take the news. Others are less assertive, low risk takers who before making significant decisions prefer to know all the facts and make sure those affected are "okay" with what's changing.
When we experience a manager from the latter description, what we call a lack of courage may simply be a low assertive, low risk taker handling situations the way it feels most natural. Depending on the situation, it may be more effective than a more assertive response. But what happens when a situation requires more assertiveness? Can people adjust their personalities to be more assertive, or show more courage?
In our experience, the answer is a resounding, "Yes!" at least in the sense that people can learn to adapt. A person isn't likely to experience a personality change, but by becoming aware of natural tendencies and how they influence management practices, a manager can learn to develop alternative responses when a situation requires it. So the manager who lacks "courage" can learn to handle situations that call for bold action and resolve using responses that may not be natural, but developed and used when needed.
Just because somebody tells us we should do something doesn't mean we can do it. As many times as my baseball coach told me where to place the hit, it wasn't until I gained enough control to do it that I could give him what he asked. Sometimes the biggest obstacle to acting courageously is in not knowing how to do it effectively, or lacking the skill to do it. For example, a manager stressed about how employees will respond emotionally to a decision may put off the decision simply because he or she doesn't know how to announce it and field questions in a way that addresses employee concerns. Once the manager learns how to confidently and skillfully manage the conversation with employees it becomes easier to make the courageous decision.
Of course, negative past experiences can be powerful teachers to current managers about what happens when a manager acts courageously and things don't work out. Whether it happened a year ago or twenty years ago, any negative story of what happened to so-and-so will be a living legend in the halls of the organization until a dramatic event erases it. In the meantime, few managers will look to be the test case to see if things have changed.
Managers who operate in compliance mode each day shackled by excessive permissions for day-to-day decision-making will find it difficult to operate differently when told "This time things are different." To support managers changing their behavior, we often have to look at changing their circumstances making the workplace safe for them to do so.
While personality, skills, and circumstances aren't all the reasons a manager may fail the courage test, we should at least know there is hope for the Cowardly Lion. The Lion is not destined to walk the Yellow Brick Road forever in search of an all-powerful wizard who holds the secret to courage. In reality, he or she usually just needs honest support and a good coach.
Trying it on for fit:
Take a personality assessment to learn your decision style and natural tendencies. Explore various decisions at work and how contrasting personalities affected how they were made while trying to understand how various decision approaches fit better in some situations than in others. Identify circumstances in which your style, or preference, is a strength, and when an alternative style may be more effective. Create an adaptive response you could use to become a more effective decision maker in those circumstances. Seek feedback from trusted sources.
For information on purchasing reprints of this article, contact sales. Copyright 2013 CyberTech, Inc.
Focus in New Mexico is on liberat arts 'educated' energy parasites.
Hi Bill, Jason A. Marks commented on your link.
Jason wrote: "Schott Solar's closing, like the troubles facing other US solar manufacturing plants (eg, Solyndra) have much more to do with broader US trade and manufacturing dynamics than they have to do with solar or renewable energy factors. Solar and other forms of renewable energy are alive and well in New Mexico and the U.S. We've got about 170 MW of solar generation in operation today in New Mexico, producing enough electricity to power 150,000 homes during daylight hours. (NM was ranked #1 nationally in solar electric generating watts installed per capita for 2011!!) But, as solar panels have become a low-cost commodity, we have found that US solar panel manufacturing no better at matching the low prices of Chinese manufacturing than we are in other areas of electronics manufacturing (go to Wallmart or Best Buy and try to find home electronics made in the USA). Politicos like Richardson and Obama tried to overcome Chinese labor cost advantages through subsidies like Schott and Solyndra received. This was theoretically possible, because even though Chinese labor costs per hour are much lower, US workers are actually a lot more productive. But what happened was that the Chinese government gave its solar industry their own subsidies, in most cases a lot more than Washington and Santa Fe were doling out. So in the end, plants like Schott were undercut by the govt-supported Chinese panel manufacturers."
I enjoyed the article, and thought I already commented but I do not see it, at the risk of being repetitive, courage is a complex issue. It is sad that HR generally is so disconnected from the operations of business, there are great concepts and possibilities that will never be realized.
I agree circumstances are key and talk is cheap. In my experience, those advanced very often have the courage to say “yes” to those further up the org chart repeatedly. I am thinking that Steve Jobs and men like him want others to nearly blindly implement their visions. I think he is a poor choice to use as an example of courage. No doubt, he had courage, but my conjecture is he did not appreciate, support or even tolerate it in others. He was another Jeff Skilling type that considered himself the smartest guy in the room, the difference being he stayed on top. Skilling was a hero until the fall of Enron showed him simply another demigod of serving his own self-interest.
If one could empirically measure courage my conjecture is those with it will be found in the career junkyard trying to salvage any piece they can. We yell from the mountain tops about leadership and courage and then promote "Authoritarians" that both give and to a large degree expect nearly complete subservience. Noncompliance menas one is not a team player. I have not seen anyone promoted or gain respect by questioning the new top down philosophy or rhetoric of an organization.
Again talk is cheap the worst lies are indeed those we tell ourselves. In many cases our rhetoric is not borne out in our actions. I doubt any job description will ever say: requires smart, charismatic, hardworking, organized individual with great attention detail to implement corporate vision without question, promotion likely.
My next conjecture is charisma is often confused with both courage and leadership.....