To celebrate the hazy days of August, I’m reposting some of the most interesting or provocative posts from the past year or so. In this case, I figured we usually think a bit about courage in summers, as we stretch our boundaries through travel – whether it’s figuring out the transit system in a city where you don’t speak the language, or getting back on waterskis for the first time in umpteen years.
One of my clients, an organization in the middle of a fairly major transformation, has recently set courage as a value, and it made me realize how very unusual that is. It’s rare in part, I think, because organizations don’t often realize – or acknowledge – that they are in a situation which requires courage. And perhaps it should become more common. An organization’s values represent the core ideals that you will not let go of to achieve your goals. They should guide decision-making, behavior, and communication (where, to whom, how often, saying what…) throughout the organization. Most organizations have a set of values – admittedly, not all actually do anything meaningful with them. But we should all aspire to make them a reality, part of the lived experience of the organization. Because when values are taken seriously and embedded in the organization, they can support people in doing the right thing. I’ve seen people in meetings stand up and point at a value listed on a poster on the wall when they are raising an issue. “We’ve said we stand for XYZ, so doesn’t that mean that we have to do ABC?” These moments can be ignored. They can open up a discussion that ultimately arrives at different conclusions. Or they can be very potent catalysts for change. But it does take courage for the issue to be raised in the first place, and perhaps more organizations should acknowledge this explicitly.
So, what would it mean to name courage as one of your values?
Well, assuming you are encouraging a culture where your values actually mean something, and your organization supports the notion of courage as a value, and you articulate courage as a value you and the whole organization already hold, what might happen?
- “Undiscussability” becomes less OK. Which is to say, there aren’t going to be as many topics that we just don’t talk about, we just don’t touch. Fewer sacred cows.
- Problematic behaviours get tackled more quickly. Less tiptoeing around interpersonal or HR issues.
- Less bureaucracy, less dithering, less analysis paralysis. More willingness to make a choice and have it mean something.
There are risks, to be sure. You might have a few lone wolves doing things you don’t expect. You will need to be systematically and consistently open to critiques and new ideas. You will have to get more comfortable with risk.
When you feel scared, hold someone’s hand
“When you feel scared, hold someone’s hand and look into their eyes. And when you feel brave, do the same thing.”
Ultimately what I think a value of courage in an organization suggests is a sense of togetherness. We are all called on to be brave entirely alone from time to time; but we do a better job of courage when we are working with others. And we do a better job working with others, when we all encourage ourselves collectively to be brave.