The Courage to be Courageous

MermaidWEBAwash in Fear

When in my early thirties, I took swimming lessons. One day I decided I wanted to dive off the diving board. I would sit on the end of the board, thinking courage would show up, give me a nudge, and I would just gently fall into the pool. It didn’t happen. Building up more courage, I would walk to the end of the board, but again courage was off doing something courageous elsewhere. Several times, I built up even more courage and would take off running to the end of the board, stop right at the edge, and my courage ran the other way. Courage drowned in a pool of fear and that fear engulfed my brain, body, and heart. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I jumped – and obviously lived to tell about it. This scenario will not fit everyone’s idea of what courage is and isn’t, but it’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Straight from the Heart

In an article, Peter Voyer compares courage on the battlefield to courage in the boardroom.    Mr. Voyer illustrates that in Afghanistan, the leader must be out in front of his or her troops even though the path may be laced with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Mr. Voyer goes on to suggest that even though a leader may possess the bravery to be in such situations, it can all be blown apart if a failure of morality occurs. The example he gives is that of a high-ranking officer who had an affair with a subordinate. Who would think that it would take courage to be moral? The word courage stems from the French word for heart – couer. So not demonstrating courage in certain circumstances can stain your heart and break the hearts of others. Great leaders do need to have a sense of morality.

Courage is Risky Business

In another article by Fast Company, there are interviews with several top business leaders about courage. Even people who have reached the executive level, still have a fear of taking risks. Warren Bennis stated: “There’s no such thing as a safe risk. That’s an oxymoron All courage is a risk. None of it is safe. The only wat to decide is through the shining either of time.” The very nature of courage demands that you take risks. Even if something is a small risk, like my swimming lessons, take it. You will soon learn to build your courage and take on truly large – and meaningful – risks. This advice is particularly useful for those who continually make excuses.

A Queen’s Heart and a Lion’s Fear

People who make excuses seem to have infinite patience as nothing ever gets accomplished. That’s not to say that patience can’t be a virtue when it comes to making courageous decisions. Here we can take a cue from Queen Elizabeth I of England. In a book entitled Elizabeth I CEO by Alan Axelrod, Ph.D., when the Queen came to the throne in 1588, she exercised what Dr. Axelrod describes as a “decisive patience.” She put off making decisions until she absolutely had to do so. On the other hand, failing to make decisions at all, is more like the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz. No, being too risky and reckless is not a good idea either. Another source offers an alternative.

Courageous Skill Building

As professionals, we must stay abreast of trends and be continuous learners. For example, in a recent article I wrote entitled Even Change is Changing suggests, being able to handle change management is now being considered as a new competency. In her article, Courage as a Skill, Kathleen K. Reardon, suggests that courage is a competency. In the Fast Company article, the questions are asked, “Can bravery be learned? Or is it genetic?” If leaders must be courageous, this takes us back to the question, “Are leaders born or made?” Both leadership and courage can be learned. Getting back to the risk factor, Ms. Reardon provides some sound advice around risks and how to build the courage to take them based on what she deems six “courage calculations.”

  • Setting goals – Nothing new here. If you don’t have goals, how will you know what it is you want and need to be courageous about?
  • Determining your goal’s importance – The plot thickens.
  • Tipping the power balance – Regardless of your level you can have power.
  • Weighing risks and benefits – Don’t leave your safety zone without it!
  • Selecting the right time – Timing is Everything. Tricky, but it too can be learned.
  • Developing contingency plans – Change is so rampant that these days we need Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C

Courage involves your personal values, social mores, and organizational goals. The foundation for my own personal courage began that day at the pool. I knew if I didn’t dive into the deep end of the pool that day, that I would probably never do it. I didn’t give up. Being honest and not giving up have proved to be two valuable cornerstones to my own courage. They continue to serve me well in life and in business. Now go forth, be courageous, dive in, and remember the lesson from Nelson Mandela, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Thank you for reading this blog. If you want to learn to build more courage, let’s chat. Call 404-320-7834, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit

Graphic Credit Copyright: Andrea Izzotti

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