Courage still matters in business and in life. Many of us avoid the difficult decisions or talk ourselves out of taking risks. We strive for comfort where only pain and discomfort exists. It’s better to bet on yourself and your business and accept the consequences then to live in someone else’s shadow or become another fish in the pond of mediocrity.
A while back a colleague’s comments encouraged me to revisit the book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. I am very glad this happened because it resonated much differently with me twenty years later. I’ve decided to end the year sharing some excerpts from the book which I have found especially enlightening and helpful:
Another Memorial Day is here although under these strange pandemic circumstances. I hope your loved ones and you are safe and healthy. Thankfully, some things become clearer with aging. Maybe it’s because we start to realize our own mortality and vulnerability. You begin to appreciate more the sacrifice and courage of others. When I was […]
M. Scott Peck had a significant impact on me many years ago. I often look back to the writers who have influenced me in the past to help navigate the present. There is a lot of natural fear circulating around these days. The Coronavirus/COVID-19 is a scary threat, as all threats are that are randomly […]
You don’t have to be Catholic to admire and appreciate the life of Saint Patrick – the Patron Saint of Ireland. He was born more than 1,600 years ago but his memory still lives on. It certainly doesn’t hurt that his holiday is often a day of much fanfare and celebration for people of Irish background. Saint […]
Leadership is very rarely about doing what’s easy. If the decision ends up on your desk it typically means no one else can or should be making it. As Harry Truman was fond of saying, “the buck stops here.” If you are delegating properly, then your people will feel empowered to step up and make most day to day decisions. If you are picking the right people, then they will be capable of using sound judgment and thinking through just about anything. However, some issues still do come down to leadership prerogative and accountability.
As we get set to celebrate another Independence Day here in the United States, we should rightfully pay tribute the obvious courage that had to be exhibited by our Founding Fathers 236 years ago. Many of these men had much to lose and only marginal personal benefits to gain by signing the Declaration of Independence. They were already part of the established social and economic order and for the most part were beneficiaries of the existing system. In fact, although we often hear about the select few who rose to historical prominence, most of the others suffered great personal hardship as a result of their decision.
When you lead others, everyone is a critic to some degree. It’s next to impossible to be fully aligned with another person 100% of the time. As a leader, knowing this, you can’t fall into the trap of listening to every dissenting voice. The path to mediocrity is littered with individuals who gave up their leadership power unnecessarily and allowed themselves to be unduly influenced by the opinions of others. This doesn’t mean you avoid soliciting feedback, quite the contrary, but you need to be able to filter this feedback and trust your own judgment. The world looks much different when you are actually accountable for your decisions. It’s easy to be an expert when you don’t have to deal with the consequences of your actions.
Life rewards persistence. Too many people give up too soon and never get to fully realize their potential or dreams. Success isn’t just about luck or good fortune. It is more about focus, hard work, determination and resolve. Everyone’s life journey has bumps along the way. Keep pressing forward even when it’s hard. Obstacles strewn along our path are just opportunities to further build our character. They also test how much we truly want something. If success always came easily then it really wouldn’t mean anything.
Winning does matter. Our country is built on the idea of individual freedom, personal initiative, competitive markets and free enterprise. In the Unites States we are constantly keeping score and rewarding those that achieve in all walks of life. You can chose to live a reactive and safe life rather than a proactive and riskier existence, but then you are dependent upon others who create the overall conditions of success from which you earn your living. This doesn’t mean that all successful people do it the right way or have admirable values. There will always be individuals who cheat the system or take advantage of the less fortunate. However, I would contend that this number is smaller than everyone thinks and our legal system (contrary to popular opinion) does a good job of ferreting them out. It certainly is not perfect, but our civic system and the “rule of law” does exist and often works. Regardless, we all learn from an early age that life isn’t fair and all we can control is our actions in response to anything that happens. There are very few true victims in life…
In my line of work you know you have tapped into a serious problem when you encounter disproportionate emotion. There have been many times where I have sat across from someone and literally watched them break down. I learned a long time ago to let the other individual have their moment and not try to downplay or negate their emotion. You don’t make someone feel better by making them feel embarrassed or disappointed about how they feel. All of us hit an emotional “brick wall” at times and become frustrated/upset with the rigors of life and work. We all need people we can turn to let us be our authentic selves, even when this isn’t pretty or easy to watch.
If I had a $100 for every time sometime told me something couldn’t be done by me or others, I’d be a rich man at this point in my life. The cold reality of life is that most people are followers and more comfortable with the status quo than the prospect of changing anything. There is also a big difference between rhetoric and action. I’d be equally wealthy if I had a $100 for everyone I met who talked a good game but then failed to follow-up with any real action. It seems as if a majority of people are content to sit on the sidelines of the game that is their own life and leave their fate to the actions of others and then complain about it. Like most fans, people have strong opinions about what should or should not be happening, but then they don’t have the courage, talent or fortitude to play the game themselves. It is a vicious circle and misery does love company.
I always like this time of year. After a great football weekend, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and watch the inauguration of our President. It is a very proud time to be an American. As I was reflecting on this experience it dawned on me that there are several characteristics of winners whether they are football teams, civil rights leaders or presidents. Several common traits emerge:
There is a great song by the band Psychedelic Furs called “Love My Way.” One of the lines goes, “you can never win or lose if you don’t run the race…” Grammatical problems aside, it is a great thought. One of the things I admire most about Olympic athletes is that they are committed to being the best in the world at something and then go about doing the hard work to make it happen. They literally run the race or compete in the event that will define their athletic existence. Most of us prefer to stay on the sidelines and watch others excel why we rationalize our own inability to do the same thing in our own lives. So many people dream big but act small.
When you opt to assume a leadership role you need to put yourself out there. Like it or not, you job requires ongoing personal and professional development under the gaze of various levels of public scrutiny. Most people shy away from the spotlight but leaders don’t have that choice. You need become comfortable with being uncomfortable. The good news is that courage is often rewarded in life. It’s probably why you have your leadership role in the first place.
Anyone can scare someone else, but it often takes alot more effort to give them courage. Leaders everywhere need to take the lead on changing this mindset. The greatest leaders throughout time have given people hope for a better future. They pushed individuals, communities, organizations and countries to elevate their perception of what’s possible. Instead of scaring people into action and using fear for manipulative purposes, they encouraged others to find the strength and resourcefulness within themselves to meet any challenge and seize opportunity. To quote Winston Churchill, “courage is the first of human qualities, because it is the quality that guarantees all others.”
It’s sad how often fear rules individual lives. You can’t blame people for being afraid. Just about every commercial and news program preys on these fears on a daily basis. When you scare people by tapping into their fears it is easy to manipulate them. I just heard a radio commercial where the financial advisor was basically warning of a financial Armageddon in the next 12 months. What irresponsible nonsense! I simply changed the channel in disgust.
Fear can be a destabilizing emotion in organizations. It limits risk taking, inhibits action and worst of all creates a cover your a** (CYA) mentality which results in countless hours of wasted energy. One the biggest fears we all grapple with is the fear of being wrong and/or making mistakes. Far too many employees would rather do nothing or rigorously defend the status quo instead of going out a limb and trying something new or different. As a result of these fears, most organizations are stuck in a survival mode because success almost always involves having courage and taking risks.
Being wise and responsible does not mean avoiding risk altogether. In fact, it requires embracing risk, the right risks at the right time with the required investment in resources.
Leadership Thought #268 – Always Remember To Have The Courage Of Your Convictions and Speak Your Truth
Not every audience is ready to hear what you have to say but say it anyway if you believe in your message. Sometimes a little resistance is good. It forces you to work on your delivery and thought process. It also means you may be challenging conventional wisdom and forcing people to get outside of their comfort zone. A leader’s job is not to make everyone happy or validate individual misconceptions but rather to put a spotlight on the truth as he/she sees it. Conflict and misunderstanding are part of life, but when managed properly they can lead to deeper agreement, greater commitment and better results. Never fall into the trap of telling people what they want to hear unless it also aligns with what they need to hear.
Life does not reward those that hesitate. One of the hardest things to teach young athletes is to get them to think before they act. They often are used to just plowing ahead regardless of the consequences or the rules. It is a difficult balancing act because if you are not careful they will begin to think too much and lose their natural athletic instincts. In addition, you will play into their natural fears of making a mistake or being wrong. And, in any sport, once you hesitate or pause, you give the other person the advantage by moving into reactive not proactive mode.