There is no mistaking that great leaders are value multipliers.
The best leaders accomplish this feat in two ways.
First, as you would expect, they are masters at leading teams to delivering high ROI results.
Second, and less well recognized, they cultivate organizational courage.
When you inspect the best performing companies, you will quickly recognize the presence of organizational courage.
However, courage is a virtue seldom cited as an ingredient for business success. Yet it underlies all of the most revered cultural principles that classically adorn office hallways.
A classic example is Amazon’s leadership principles, which are consistently groomed to ensure intended behavioral norms are cultivated to deliver a healthy organizational atmosphere.
The, now expanded 16 principles, are:
- Customer Obsession
- Invent and Simplify
- Are Right A Lot
- Learn And Be Curious
- Hire and Develop the Best
- Insist on the Highest Standards
- Think Big
- Bias for Action
- Earn Trust
- Dive Deep
- Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
- Deliver Results
- Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer
- Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility
Reflecting on the common thread underlying all of these meticulously curated principles, you will no doubt recognize courage as a prerequisite for each.
And, as you would expect for a list of principles defining corporate leadership, when you review the elegantly written supporting text you will find the word “Leaders” is weaved throughout, a skill which – when performed well – is the embodiment of courage.
You will also discover additional descriptive elements including sacrifice, invention, performance, bold, inspire, risk, candidly, embarrassing, challenge decisions, conviction, commit wholly, never settle, diverse, empathy, humble, and determination – all equally requiring the prerequisite of courage.
And yet, Amazon’s brilliant minds of cultural stewardship, like so many of us, left it to the imagination of the reader to correctly infer that every day must be fueled with courage. It is not directly mentioned once, yet is clearly the activating ingredient underlying their entire leadership doctrine.
An ingredient that is equally required of all leaders with titled authority as well as everyone else in the organization. Meaning every role, at any company, on every day, must invoke courage to perform the uncomfortable and strive for greatness as a collective body.
Can you recognize courage?
“You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.” — Brene Brown
How do we develop organizational courage to ensure that we build and maintain a healthy culture?
How do we establish an atmosphere that makes courageous efforts the norm when courage is historically underdeveloped for most people?
How do we take a bold and courageous stand that requires you to stick your neck out like a goose in the house of the butcher, leaving yourself vulnerable for predatory politics?
How do we overcome the mindset that courage is only measured by monumental acts of heroism, instead of the recognition that courage is a latent skill measured in the daily attempts to perform actions outside your current comfort zone?
How do we unwind the misconception that courage and confidence are interchangeable. They are not. Confidence is the belief that you could perform an action. Courage is the action taken to prove to yourself that you can.
Many arm chair quarterbacks express confidence that they could perform an action as good or better than someone else, and yet they lack the courage to get in the game and try it.
This unfortunately common delta between self-confidence and comparative self-regard is unfortunate and the challenge of closing this gap squarely rests on the shoulders of leaders. The greatest of which embrace the challenge and actively mentor and lead by example to develop this collective skill. Leading to an extended team of enlightened members who embrace their obligation to contribute all they have to the mission at hand.
So how do they do it?
What is the most direct route to developing organizational courage?
Lead with customer centric purpose, principles, and processes.
No equalizing measure can be employed more quickly than helping the collective to act in the best regard for someone else – “in the service of others” as they say. Getting everyone to rally around a customer centric purpose is what customer obsession truly looks like.
“From caring comes courage.” — Lao Tzu
Here are a few suggestions:
Properly Define your Corporate Purpose
Ensure your purpose statement is outside in, not inside out. Meaning, frame your purpose in terms of what you do for individual customers, not in terms of your solution.
Establish Corporate Principles
Establish corporate principles of behavior that embrace the type of customer centric culture that you desire. Word them in a way that instills courage toward embracing them on a daily basis. Reinforce your principles by celebrating actions that align with your principles and actively mentor those that defy your principles.
Establish Product Principles
Establish product principles to embody the customer desired virtues that you look to ensure that it is easier to define ideal solutions. For example, Apple’s product principles, whether implicitly or explicitly stated, stand for clean and intuitive, establishing decision making clarity for their product teams.
Ground Meeting Agendas on Customer Impact
Kickoff meetings by stating the objective in terms of what it means for customers. Frankly, if it does not add customer value, is it worth your investment? (Hint: mentoring employees and boosting cultural health services your customer by adding needed corporate stability.)
Fight HiPPO Decision Making Tendencies
Avoid HiPPO decisions by channeling decisions through the customer mindset via the use of personas – “Does this dashboard communicate information that solves Sally the SDR’s top 3 daily concerns? Does design A or design B boost Sally’s comprehension and goal attainment?”
Align Processes to the Ideal Customer Journey
Ensure that your processes reflect the ideal customer journey and not your current corporate departmental lines. When consumers bounce from department to department, experiencing one cold transfer after another – required to restate facts to each representative, it feels like they are dealing with different companies at each step. Do not allow this behavior. Prove your customer centricity by eliminating these awkward handoffs.
Pair Courage with Grace
Finally, it is worth recognizing that the fastest growth of courage comes when paired with practicing an equally challenging virtue, grace.
“Courage is grace under pressure.” — Ernest Hemingway
It often plays out in the following ways:
Grace must be given to those who’s courage failed to rise to the level necessary at a given time. Perhaps they could have done more in the moment, yet do not look at this as a failure of duty and instead recognize it as a coaching moment – offering assistance in developing their confidence given similar future situations.
Grace must be given to those who’s courage outpaced their ability to follow through in the moment. While filled with hubris, they had the courage to attempt to rise to the challenge. In this case the coaching opportunity is to reinforce skills and abilities.
Grace must be given to yourself when you reflect on moments where you failed to have sufficient courage to take action when you believe you should have. Simply recognize the lost opportunity and welcome the chance for growth should a similar situation arise.
Grace must be given to yourself when you fault others for having more courage than yourself, attributing their actions as politically motivated. Recognize this assumption and replace it with an assumption of positive intent.
Grace must even be given to those that exhibit misguided, self-protective courage born from personal insecurities. These cases – where cowardly actions express intentionally harmful statements or actions to cut someone down as a protection measure for their fragile ego – can be difficult to bear and invariably stunt the development of courage. Here an extra measure of courage is required to remain steadfast and self-confident.
Courage is especially required when the offensive comes from a person wielding position power, foolishly leveraging the veil of authority to impart their will. Yes, it takes courage to ingest any applicable utility present in their actions while simultaneously ignoring the sharpness of the blade that it is delivered with … and yet, having the courage to deescalate offensive actions is a level of mastery that is worthwhile to develop, no matter how large the un-retaliated wounds feel in the moment, for this is the crux of grace and courage.
Finally, to dispel any self-limiting beliefs, I submit the fact that courage is not listed as an innate trait for any given personality dimension on any published behavioral assessment (Myers Briggs, Strength Finder, …). Meaning, courage is not a trait you are born with. It is a muscle that strengthens with exercise. Challenge yourself to develop your courage.
I’m taking the first step here, leading by example by publishing my articles and videos. This is my act of courage as it is much safer to find excellence within close council. Yet embracing a quest for excellence that is performed in the public eye, in spite of a lack of proven mastery, is a courage boundary that I aim to extend with each publishing.
So, now it is your turn.
How will you strengthen your courage today?