Courage Goes to Work: How to Build Backbones, Boost Performance and Get ResultsBy Bill TreasurerBerrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.$30.95 An editorial board bus tour of a community health centre. A grant to bankroll service learning projects. A media relations summer camp for non-profits. And a fundraising dinner for a community leader and her husband. That’s what I’d put on my personal highlight reel for 2008. The projects called for a little leadership, a whole lot of collaboration and a willingness to take more than a few leaps of faith. With all four initiatives, there was a problem to solve, a need to meet, an opportunity to seize and I was lucky enough to be in the right place to help make something happen. I’m ending the year with more of what author and Giant Leap Consulting founder Bill Treasurer calls try and trust courage. Try courage comes from taking initiative and attempting something for the very first time. Trust courage is about relinquishing control, relying on others and taking risks on other people stepping up tothe plate. “The act of trusting often requires letting go of our need to control outcomes or people, our defence mechanisms and our preconceptions about what is right,” says Treasurer. Along with my highlight reel, I have some lowlights from the year that was. To avoid making a career-limiting move, I won’t go into the details. But I can confess that in every instance I pulled up short on what Treasurer calls tell courage. I didn’t speak with candor or conviction or voice the minority opinion, even when it was what everyone else was thinking. Instead, I bit my tongue and went along to get along. “You see tell courage at work when employees tactfully but truthfully provide tough feedback. You also see it when workers raise their hands to ask for help , or when they tell you about mistakes they’ve made before you ask.” Treasurer says the triple combo of try, trust and tell courage is the key to employee engagement, passion, motivation and commitment. “Courage is the lifeblood of leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation. In fact, courage is so critical to these things that they can’t exist without it.” While Treasurer calls courage the premier business virtue, he claims it’s in short supply. Too many organizations have too many comfortable or fearful workers. Just enough is good enough. Staff play it safe and spend all their time preserving what is rather than pursuing what could be. Treasurer’s coined the term comfeartable for underperforming workers who adhere to the law of staying safe at all costs. No initiative. No risk-taking. No candor. No making waves. And, as result, no game-changing innovation. Anyone in a leadership role has two choices. Inspire and transform comfeartable workers or breed more workers lacking in try, trust and tell courage. What you do and say goes a long way in filling or spilling their trust buckets. “Managers who fill people with fear in order to motivate them often do so for reasons of efficiency or immaturity,” says Treasurer. “It simply takes less time, thought and technique to bark an order than it does to motivate people according to their interests, passion and capabilities.” Yet fear kills morale, erodes trust and builds resentment. Not exactly ideal conditions for the fostering and flourishing of innovation, quality or exceptional customer service. So how can you can build a more courageous workforce? Jump first and be a role model. There are two ways to get folks to do something they don’t want to do or don't think they can pull off. You can push from behind or attract from the front. According to Treasurer, management by jumping first and gaining first-hand experience on the frontlines is the most powerful and effective way of convincing comfeartable workers to do uncomfortable and courageous things. Make it safe for employees to take smart risks. Asking them to be innovative and then telling them not to screw up and acting like the sky is falling when mistakes happen is not all that helpful. Instead, value forward-failing and non-habitual mistakes. Anyone who’s mistake-free isn’t trying hard enough to take the risks that lead to innovation. You also need to provide air cover so your staff have the time and space to be courageous. “While workers recognize the legitimate need for you to be responsive to your boss’s demands, they lose confidence in you if you respond impulsively to executive requests without considering the impact that those requests may have on them.” Along with building safety nets and standing up for your staff, you can turn fear into the fuel that drives folks to do courageous things. Constantly modulating comfort will also spur workers to try new things and gain confidence in using their newfound skills. “I want you to live a long, healthy and courageous life,” says Treasurer. “And I want you to have a long, prosperous and courageous career. What I don’t want is for you to have career and life longevity only to end up sitting on a barstool someday, complaining about all the things you wish you had done. “Regrets, especially over things we should have done but didn’t because we were too comfortable or afraid when we faced them, burn hot in our souls. The risks we regret the most are always the ones we didn’t take.”So if you’re still searching for a New Year’s resolution, commit to ending 2009 with a blockbuster highlight reel loaded with try, trust and tell courage at work and in the community.
Great story here by Malcolm Gladwell in the latest issue of The New Yorker ("Most Likely to Succeed"). Outliers: The Story of Success By Malcolm Gladwell Little, Brown and Company $30.99 Imagine it's 1968 and you're in Grade 8. The parents at your school buy the best computer on the market. The computer's better thanContinue reading “Book review: Outliers and the keys to success”
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