Did you say "Courage"?

This article on courage was written almost 13 years ago by Véronique Chabanis, at the time Director of Human Resources with a leading company in the field of financial information. The content remains very relevant to this day and exposes some of the key aspects inherent in managerial responsibility.

A high-profile educator greeted the incoming middle school class of September 1930 with these words:
"… we might only have one opportunity in life to be heroic, but every day offers the opportunity not to show cowardice…"

The company, in coping with the often contradictory demands originating from its various components (e.g. shareholders, employees, clients), has today become the place where day in day out we have the possibility to demonstrate our courage. This opportunity is offered by virtue of our exposure not only to uncertainties emanating from myriad changes affecting our technological, competitive, organizational and cultural environment, but also to constraints caused by abrupt shocks that create ambiguities in decision-making processes and leadership assignments.

The courage to explore what really lies behind subtle warning signs, to highlight the inherent flaws in a solution that seems to have gained widespread acceptance, to recognize the existence of disagreement, etc. This particular courage appeals to lucidity, yet it is not sufficient to simply be aware of a difficulty, this courage extends to expressing a difficulty constructively to stakeholders in order to translate its potential consequences into an action plan. What's the point of adamantly expressing at lunch, at the cafeteria or upon returning to the office what needed to be said during the meeting or interview… "but that wouldn't have led anywhere"… "why repeat what I had already said 6 months ago"… "it's not my role to get involved"… "if it's only going to be held against me"?

The courage to not rely exclusively on oneself, in requesting an opinion, honest feedback on one's behavior, in recognizing one's limitations or alternatively in accepting to delegate key responsibilities along with the requisite resources (e.g. information, assistance) to ensure a colleague's success. This particular courage appeals to trust and only proves to be worthwhile if it is sincerely intended to facilitate and advance the career path of team members who demonstrate the drive. Isn't it ultimately more efficient to have the courage to ask for assistance from one's manager or a more experienced colleague or to be accompanied by a coach in overcoming a difficult situation or improving on weaknesses rather than attempting to go it alone without the necessary perspective? When we feel overwhelmed, isn't it because we haven't taken the risk of delegating or sharing responsibility on certain fronts?

The courage to make a decision when confronted with risk or an uncertain environment, without being able to collect all the desired information and without fully weighing all the consequences. On the flip side, the courage not to make a decision despite pressure being exerted or else to simply bask in the publicity. This particular courage appeals to personal initiative and only takes on meaning if associated with a higher calling of responsibility "since man's only dignity lies in assuming the consequences of his acts", according to the celebrated French industrialist François Michelin. And true courage is needed to make strategic decisions and cope with the consequences against an unpredictable backdrop. But courage is also required to simply undertake a decision that can't wait, when the hierarchical supervisor is not available to sign off on it.

The courage to leave one's comfort zone, not to be content with an existing satisfactory situation, but always looking to the future, extending one's boundaries, seeking excellence, etc. This particular courage appeals to ambition and is fueled by perseverance. Designing and launching a new product even though the company's flagship products are still selling well, conquering new markets despite extreme familiarity with existing markets are examples of real acts of courage that guarantee the company's durability. Shying away from such courage is tantamount to merely engaging in survival decisions implemented under urgent conditions once the flagship products have lost their ability to satisfy needs, once a new competitor has entered the scene, once the markets have become saturated.

The courage built by being rigorous, with this rigor being imposed on oneself, the kind demanded of one's entourage. Whether out of respect for the commitment made, the rule enforced, the word given, or out of fairness, this particular courage appeals to a form of discipline that allows us to work together, to reach beyond our individual aspirations and personal operating modes in pursuit of overall company success.

So with Aristotle asserting that courage is the number one human virtue since it makes all other virtues possible, let's practice courage with one another in our day-to-day environment to remain focused on and pursue a shared level of confidence, full of ambitious initiatives, perseverant in our striving for excellence, all in the aim of ensuring our success both today and tomorrow. Now how's that for a rallying cry going forward!

Véronique CHABANIS, 2006