Bravery In The Workplace

This is part four of a series on everyday bravery.

If there is one place where bravery is most needed (and often most lacking) it’s in the workplace. Brave people create brave workplaces, and brave workplaces ultimately change the world around them. However, in order for a culture to operate by principles of bravery, individuals must be willing to engage in brave actions every day.

Here are a few principles for engaging bravely in your workplace:

Own your words and actions. ​Be an individual with a backbone. If you say or do something, accept the consequences, whether good or bad, for your choices. Never throw a teammate under the bus.

Taking accountability for your actions does a few things. First, it signals to others that they can trust you to shoulder responsibility, and to do the right thing. This is no small matter. If others sense that you’re playing games and that your primary interest is in protecting yourself and your reputation above actually performing, they will tolerate you but will never trust you. Second, it removes the stigma of falling short. If we are doing difficult things, we are going to fail occasionally. A workplace culture in which nothing difficult is attempted requires no bravery. Only teams on a mission to do difficult things need to be brave. Taking accountability for poor results, and attempting to fix them, is a signal of authenticity and courage, and it pushes others to do the same. This is the essence of good leadership. We can never tolerate blame shifting.  

Is there something you need to take accountability for today?

Encourage​.This literally means to “put courage into” others. Brave people embolden the people around them, speak words of affirmation to them, and cheer them on to be their best. They are not threatened by the successes of others. 

Cowards hold back encouragement because they believe that life is a zero-sum game, and that if someone else gets attention for something it will only tarnish their own standing with the group. However, brave people willingly and truthfully put courage into others, recognizing that we need one another in order to succeed. Brave people are outward focused. Cowards are obsessed with themselves and their own needs and feelings. 

Who can you encourage today? Be proactive about putting courage into others. 

Embrace personal growth, even when you look foolish.​Some people fear trying new things, learning new skills, or tackling new kinds of projects because they fear that if they fail they will be “found out”. Brave people know that occasional failure is simply a part of doing hard things.

To grow, you have to stretch yourself to the point of failure. Now, you have to balance this with wisdom, meaning that you shouldn’t attempt things that are obviously well beyond your present ability. (Just because I’ve climbed rocks in an indoor, controlled facility doesn’t mean I’m ready to free climb half-dome.) Intentionally stretch yourself, have uncomfortable but necessary conversations, and push yourself to learn new skills even when you will appear foolish to those around you for a while.

What do you need to do in order to grow yourself?

Share your ideas, even when they aren’t received.​You cannot control whether someone else likes your ideas, but you can control whether or not you share them. The regret over inaction is too high a price to pay. If you are in a meeting and you have an intuition that something might work, share it. Share your insights with a peer who is struggling with a difficult problem. So many brilliant breakthroughs are lost because someone was too afraid to share what they were seeing with the rest of the group. Yes, you might be rejected. Yes, it might actually be a bad idea. But, your small insight might be the key to unlocking a bigger insight within the group.

What idea have you been holding onto that you need to bravely share with your team?

Refuse to compromise your values, even when it costs you something.​ Had there been more brave people, fiascos like Theranos, Enron, and the Great Recession could have been averted or greatly mitigated. Brave people do what’s right, even when it might cost them everything they’ve worked for.

Do you know what you stand for? I dedicated the last chapter of Herding Tigers to helping leaders develop a set of guiding principles for their life and work. You must have some framework that guides your decisions, beyond what feels good in the moment. Cowards go with their gut, but brave people are guided by framing principles.

What principles will you stand for, even if it means temporarily losing your livelihood?

Compete for purposes of cause, not for comfort. C​owards climb the ladder because of what it brings them in terms of comfort and accolades. Brave people are driven by principles and cause. Competition is healthy, but it’s easy to get lost in competition at the expense of the greater cause that you’re pursuing. Spend your finite energy on something that will last. Promotions, awards, and accolades are going to quickly fade, but the impact you have on the world around you – including your teammates – will echo for years to come. Don’t build monuments to yourself. Make echoes in the lives of others.

In what ways are you competing right now, and are they about advancing a cause or gaining personal comfort and accolades? 

Brave people build brave workplaces, and brave workplaces change the world. Be brave today, friends. Know what you stand for, spend yourself on what matters, take accountability for your actions, and pour yourself courageously into your work. 

The intro music for the AC podcast is by Joshua Seurkamp. End remix is by DJ Z-Trip.

This episode is sponsored by Skillshare. Explore your creativity and two free months of Premium Membership at Skillshare.com/AC.

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