The opposite of courage according to any good thesaurus is fear, timidity or cowardice. We are going to focus on the first two in this section. There is a wonderful saying, 'the opposite to courage is not cowardice it is conformity'. We know that conformity when it comes to a process is a good way to function within a business. However, conformity when it comes to creativity, when making positive change and development, is perhaps less good. We have to be brave in breaking the routine and the norms to really move things forward.
Nigel Prideaux, Communications Director for Aviva, whom I interviewed, had some great things to say on kindness, namely this on having frank conversations:
Sometimes it's about having the tough conversations up front and openly with them. Of course it's about celebrating success and really motivating people but there is a harder kind of success as well because if for example there is underperformance in a team the kinder thing is to help that person think about how they can increase their performance because it will be better for the individual and it'll be better for the team.
Those tough and honest conversations that I introduced in the section on honesty, are not easy to have, but as a leader we avoid them as the person may be tricky to deal with. We don't want to end up in HR and have the headache of them retaliating about a conversation you have had. It’s due to the fear of what might happen. Although you need to draw upon courage to change that, allowing that poor performance will only lead their actions to affect the rest of the team as Prideaux points out. So, how do we draw upon our courage up to tackle those conversations that we may prefer to leave?
Fear is the reason. It is hardwired into our brains, which as previously discussed, was great when we were fighting off sabre tooth tigers. Now we need it much less, although it remains important in many ways to prevent us entering dangerous situations without a sense of caution.
Fear comes from several places, and some is learnt through negative experiences. We may have been attacked in a dark place and then be afraid of the dark. Some are passed on, such as if your mother was frightened of water and showed that she was, then you too are likely to be afraid of water and swimming. And then there is the instinctive fear that we have for something that could cause us pain for example, like a snake.
The ability to fear can keep us alive but it can also be a curse. As humans we are able to imagine what might happen, and we do this a lot. We imagine all the possible outcomes and mostly they are bad. This can escalate into anxiety. Also when we are primed for fear, let’s say when you watch a scary movie, when someone walks into the room you'll likely jump. At work it is no different. If we feel our boss is not telling us something and then calls us into a meeting, we are already fearful before it starts.
Fear is a blocker for many people trying to live the life they desire. They conform and behave in ways society expects them to, although this may not actually be bringing them contentment. There is the fear of all the things that could go wrong, what people will think, and the idea of being ostracised and living alone forever. Although in reality the things we think will happen usually don't, and if they do, it’s not usually a bad thing in the end.
Courage can grow, once you have achieved one thing you feel brave enough to try the next thing. You know this is true for you, so you know this is true of your team. If you can encourage them to try something new, to take on a new challenge with support, they will be willing to try it again.
Department heads have the power to implement change. Whether your team is 2 or 200, you have the power to make change that can filter out into the wider organisation. Courage is a life gift whose value will never be forgotten by your team. You will be an organisation that becomes a leader in your industry. Of course, things won’t always work out perfectly, but that’s the point of courage. You dust yourself off and have the courage to do something new or try again. Having the courage to start to make that change, be original, be creative, saying yes before you say no, will change your life and those that you work with, for and on behalf of.
So how do we promote courage in ourselves and our teams which will in turn reduce fear?
Encourage – Encourage your team to think outside the parameters and norms of your industry. No idea is ever discarded, everyone is written down in a brainstorm. Remember in Chapter 5b.5 about the idea of only providing positive feedback on it? That applies here. It encourages people to be brave with sharing their ideas.
Avoid procrastination – This can be a killer. Spend too much time considering a situation or action, and it never gets done. Mel Robbins famously talks about the five-second rule, count five and then do it. Avoidance comes at the price of the fear building up, it’s how anxiety is formed and phobias adopted.
Get it booked – Getting things booked in with others will usually help. Summoning the courage to do something, to call that person who might say no. If you don't call at all they certainly are saying no.
Bring a friend – Getting your team to work with each other on something that someone feels uneasy about will help them to have courage. Someone might have to give a presentation and they look like a rabbit in the headlights. Get a colleague who is a great mentor to work with them on it.
Visualisation – Thinking about the feeling when you've managed to achieve it or you have taken the action that was so fear inducing, is just the best. Knowing that you will be able to say, well I did it, will only promote more courage to keep doing things that push you out of your comfort zone.
Be uncomfortable – Be out of your comfort zone regularly. It can be a performance measurement to work with on yourself and your team. Ask what has made you uncomfortable this month?
Serve others – Do things for people, be kind, follow the Culture of Kindness ethos and you will give courage to your team and yourself.
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