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Cowards Need Not Apply

workforce management
  • Published
  • 16 December 2020
  • Category
  • General

Courage appears to be a critical managerial trait that is not recognized as often as it should be, especially when employee health and safety is at stake.

The American Psychological Association defines courage as the ability to meet a difficult challenge despite the physical, psychological or moral risks involved in doing so.

In a recent Gallup survey, managers reported that they work an average of four hours more per week than non-managers and have a lot on their plate. While they may feel resentful about their work load, they also want to be well-liked by their colleagues. Consequently, employees who report to “low-courage” managers wait for hard decisions to be made so they can successfully complete tasks and senior executives assume everything is running smoothly.

According to Gallup, one of the most noticeable attributes of a low-courage manager is a tendency to tailor assignments, objectives and overall communication to an audience based on what they believe others want to hear – not what is best for an individual or the organization as a whole.

With COVID-19 dramatically changing the work landscape, experts say the time has never been more urgent to identify low-courage managers, offer them supervisorial training or find a role that is a better fit for them. Otherwise, employees may be exposed to potentially risky or non-productive situations that have not been adequately addressed.

What Can You Do?

Bill Treasurer, author of Courage Goes to Work, suggests promoting a workplace culture that encourages managers to go outside their comfort zone. He also recommends speaking up and doing less people-pleasing, a skill that takes consistent practice.

He breaks aspects of courage into three parts:

  1. Try Courage: Courage is often needed when attempting something for the first time or after a significant failure.
  2. Trust Courage: Having faith in courage is helpful when delegating, following someone’s lead or being trustworthy.
  3. Tell Courage: Courage involves overcoming fears when giving directions, being more assertive or admitting a mistake.

To begin the process of checking where one falls on the courage scale, the Harvard Business Review suggests asking these questions:

  • What does success look like in this high-risk situation?
  • Is it obtainable?
  • If my primary goal is organizational, does it defend or advance my company’s or team’s principles and values?
  • If my primary goal is personal, does it derive solely from my career ambitions or also from a desire for my organization’s or even society’s greater good?
  • If I can’t meet my primary goal, what is my secondary goal?

Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to move forward in spite of it. Identifying an end goal can help a manager assess messages that need to be conveyed and to whom. In turn, this helps build confidence and generate positive outcomes.

To truly advance the goals and values of an organization, managers should be supported when practicing courage by scheduling difficult conversations, accepting challenging assignments, and being honest with themselves and others about their limitations.