Courage is Needed in the Workplace

When was the last time you truly acted courageously at work?

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | April 27, 2017

Courage seems like a strange word to use in the context of an employee. Policemen and soldiers need to be courageous, but does the average employee holding down an office job need courage? The answer is, “Yes!”

Consider the following examples:

  • A plant worker discovers a piece of unsafe electrical equipment but says nothing to management. Hundreds of lives are at stake.
  • An HR Manager fed up with continuous poor leadership decisions threatens to resign over and over and never does.
  • A General Counsel admits abuse of alcohol and seeks treatment requiring 2 months leave from her job while her husband files for divorce.
  • A small business owner fires a client who is not a good fit even though the business is struggling.
  • A group of workers raising their hand and questioning whether the new practice will yield the desired results?
  • Speaking up when you are in the minority. Willingness to question the status quo.
  • Leaders willing to take a risk to try something they never had knowing there is a risk of failure produces the greatest results.

Courage is important every day at work. As employees, we’re pulled in a variety of directions. Our decisions are second-guessed. Our motives are questioned. Our choices are often judged. Our ideas are scrutinized. And each day it takes courage to make new decisions, new choices, and share new ideas.

Courage in the workplace, for the clear majority of employees, will never involve life and death decisions. However, it is never easy to risk the negative opinions of others, but so tempting to keep your head down, your mouth shut, and just get your work done. The newer employee may worry about risking embarrassment due to his/her lack of experience. The long-time employee who has taken a few chances, but none of these proved successful, so now he/she hesitates to make suggestions or offer leadership.

Nevertheless, if you are going to be successful at work, you must demonstrate courage You can distinguish yourself for your ideas and opinions, but only if you share them with others. If you intend to prove your value to the organization, you must think of ways to make contributions. Making contributions means that you to speak up, share your thoughts, and take some risks. Each of these steps requires some degree of courage.

Employers must do their part and encourage risk-taking, applaud new ideas, and create an environment where your people are comfortable sharing their opinions. You need to encourage; even inspire the people you lead to be courageous. The best way demonstrate courage is to do what you’re asking and expecting of others. In other words: Lead by example.

I hasten to add, you won’t always be successful. There will be times you will speak up, only to discover later, that you were flat wrong. You will have bad ideas. You will try things that don’t work. Remember this: No one, and I mean NO ONE, is successful all the time. So, when you fail – and you will fail, that’s when summoning your courage will prove to be a tremendous challenge.

When was the last time you truly acted courageously at work? I encourage you to do so because, on balance, it will serve you well. Don’t get to the end of your career and regret what you didn’t do.

David Cox


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