A Case for Courage: Real Courage Is What You Do On A Daily Basis

A Case for Courage: Real Courage Is What You Do On A Daily Basis
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"There is no pivotal moment, only small acts of courage
for the right decision."
-- Jim Carrick

We often think of courage in terms of one-time heroic acts of war or in the bravery of the firefighters who risked -- and too often gave -- their lives on September 11th.

But courage in the large acts comes from courage built from a series of small acts. James Bregman, 1964 Olympian, said, "The real courage is what you do on a daily basis, how you conduct yourself to the standards you have set. That will lead to doing the right thing and the next right thing. The more times you do the next right thing, the more ingrained proper conduct becomes. It starts with little things and ends with big things."

Over 100 interviews with business leaders showed clearly that this type of courage is essential for long-term career success and personal satisfaction. Without courage, you live a less full life. You don't go as far in your career or last as long. But just as some people aren't sure if they have an identity apart from their job title, some aren't sure they have values apart from what the company has given them. Others simply aren't strong enough. It takes courage to follow your values and be unwavering. But a career without courage flattens out because it is not built on a solid foundation.

Courage: A Essential Core Value

It is critical that courage become a core value of the company because the organization pays the price for the misconduct of a few: lawsuits, front-page scandals and punishment of the price per share. Putting aside Enron, which seems corrupt throughout its culture, most companies would welcome the opportunity to correct problems before they hit the headlines giving the organization a public black eye and besmirched reputation. It is in the company's best interests to develop courage in its leaders because only the largest organizations can afford to staff ethics officer positions and ethics hotlines. The rest must rely on their employees to do what is right and report what is wrong.

Organizational integrity begins with the organization's framework of values and ends with individual accountability. Nine in ten employees say they expect their organizations to do what is right, not just what is profitable. The same percentage say the people they work with believe in the organization's standards and values. As their leaders, we must live and breathe our values, modeling them in everyday behavior.

Courage is needed in transition

"In my former company, they put values into operations across the entire organization. But when the merger was announced, the importance of values stopped and today, values are not espoused." -- Anonymous

When times are the toughest, integrity matters the most. The 2000 Ethics Resource Center study showed that companies in transition from mergers and acquisitions, restructuring or layoffs are associated with higher levels of misconduct. The percentage of employees who observed misconduct in the past year was 37% for transitioning organizations compared to 27% of employees who worked in stable organizations. Why the higher rates of misconduct?

Change, stress and high stakes bring out the best and worst in human behavior. Organizational transitions redefine organizational priorities and disrupt reporting relationships and patterns of communication, resulting in uncertainty and stress. The loss of a trusted supervisor, increased workload and additional responsibilities can cause employees to question company norms. During tough economic times, especially during layoffs when employee cynicism reaches an all time high, companies can be challenged to live by their values.

Sometimes it seems like we are working in different organizations. Senior and middle managers observe less misconduct, feel less pressure to compromise integrity and are more likely to report misconduct. High level employees and senior managers also have more positive perceptions of the ethical behavior of their leaders than do lower level employees. We tend to overestimate our employee's commitment to company values and underestimate the company's risk. We grow overconfident that the scandals we read about and watch on TV couldn't happen here.

Courage is needed to question

"There is a lot of fear for advancement, for the job. This causes people to look the other way. If someone is driven by money and financial gain, they will be more desperate when faced with losing a job. " -- Barbara Best

There are many reasons why it could happen here, but only two main reasons why your employees wouldn't report misconduct or raise concerns. 34% are afraid they will be seen as a troublemaker by management. 35% fear their coworkers will see them as a "snitch." In transitioning organizations experiencing layoffs, the percentage climbs to 42%. Even among senior and middle managers, one in five say they will be seen as troublemakers by management if they report misconduct. These discouraging percentages speak to a deep distrust of management.

These fears appear to be justified. Unlike Enron whistle blower, Sherron Watkins, who was widely praised for her highly developed moral sense and incredible courage, most "snitches" are quietly fired, their careers derailed, their reputations ruined.

Nina Aversano, former president of sales for North America, claimed she was fired in retaliation for giving detailed warning that Lucent's sales targets were unrealistic. Lucent improperly booked $679 million in revenue during its 2000 fiscal year, boosting sales revenues by giving credit to customers unlikely to pay and counting sales for product shipped to distribution partners that was never sold to end customers. Lucent stock lost 77% of its value in the one year period between their first earnings warning and the formal SEC investigation.

Former Xerox finance executive, James F. Bingham, sued the company for wrongful termination, claiming he was fired in August 2000 because he tried to call attention to accounting fraud. His complaint alleged that Chief Financial Officer, Barry Romeril, directed underlings to boost income by selling banks the rights to future revenues from Xerox copiers that were on short-term rentals to customers. When KPMG declined to certify Xerox's financial results, the company delayed filing its annual report, which prompted a widening probe by the SEC. Almost two years later, Xerox admitted to inflating revenue by $1.9 billion.

Ethical Behavior vs. Unethical Business Misconduct

Clearly it is in the company's best interest to have early warning and an opportunity to make the situation right. Most people are doing their best to lead honorably on a day-by-day basis; most companies stumble and fall due to radioactive influence of a few. Unfortunately, many companies don't find out about misconduct in time to correct it because of the stigma of whistle blowing. A study conducted by Walker Information revealed that nearly a third of employees believe whistle blowing on illegal or unethical company actions is, in itself, a serious ethical violation.

We have grown accustomed to accounting scandals: Rite Aid, Sunbeam, and Waste Management were precursors to Enron. Normally, accounting fraud takes months, if not years, to unravel; the charges are complicated and the heroes and villains are painted in shades of gray rather than black and white. SEC investigations are cumbersome, requiring lengthy probes into complex financial arrangements. The scandal plays out in the press amid a flurry of lawsuits by former employees and shareholders and counter accusations of incompetent leadership.

Unlike these highly visible cases, most misconduct is garden variety, according to a 2000 study by the Ethics Resource Center.

Types of misconduct:

Lying to employees, customers, vendors or the public. 26%

Withholding needed information from employees, 25% customers, vendors or the public.

Abusive or intimidating behavior towards employees. 24%

Misreporting actual time or hours worked. 21%

Discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, age or 17% similar categories.

Even small companies with high integrity leadership are not immune. Mike almost lost his advertising agency to employee fear. An employee was stealing money from the company by cutting phony invoices and pocketing the money. Other employees saw the dishonesty and knew the company was being cheated, but thought the owners might be in on it. They were afraid they might lose their job if they mentioned it. So they did nothing. Eventually one person came forward.

Mike prosecuted the thief, whose excuse was that he felt he was worth more than he was being paid. Mike said, "I think I was more disappointed to find out that other employees knew about it but did nothing. I wear my values on my sleeve. They should have known by my character."

The Faces of Courage

We are not accustomed to talking about courage in leadership except in the abstract, occasionally anchored to examples: he has the courage of his convictions, she has the courage to keep the course despite crushing pressure, he has the courage to make the tough decisions without consultants.

There are many types of quiet courage, many unreported examples and small moments. Courage is doing what is right for the organization and its people when there are no easy answers. Courage is called on when there is pressure to compromise, to look the other way or to give in to the urgency of an unfilled position with a questionable candidate.

Sometimes courage comes when your back is against the wall and you cannot retreat one more step, when you have to dig down deep to find your courage.

But courage is not charging ahead on a Quixotic mission at all costs. That is closer to being a loose cannon, both reckless and foolish. Sometimes we romanticize the notion of going down in flames fighting for right, but the reality is that your people benefit far more from your continued leadership. Courage is closer to taking measured risks, arguing your case intelligently and occasionally coming back to fight another day.

The Courage to Challenge

"I was put in the penalty box — they didn't kill me, but put me
where I couldn't hurt the agenda."
-- Jim McCallie

Courage is doing what is right for the organization when it is risky or unpopular. It takes courage to challenge the status quo, to change the business model and push change through resistance. But courage grows when you are tested; when you make a decision that puts your reputation and career at stake.

"Going through the fire and being pushed to the edge teaches you how to respond to conflict in real business issues. You have to believe in yourself," says Tim (a pseudonym).

Tim was 25 when he put a halt on a new system rollout, putting his career on the line to stabilize the system and pushing a million dollar bleed up through the organization. Without years of experience to anchor him, he worked off sheer intuition and his internal compass to decide what was right for the organization.

Tim was the only product person on the team -– the others in information technology were under heavy incentives to get the system online quickly.

The business was highly seasonal and the team was under pressure to have the system up and running by the holidays. The team tested the pilot system at one site and found problems. At first, they weren't sure if the problems were with the system or the users. But after testing the system at a second site, they discovered a number of major design flaws in the guts of the application.

Tim had to articulate the unpopular. He was going to shut the system down for six months until it could be stabilized -- a million dollar delay. The IT group accused him of "scope creep" -- of changing the requirements -- and recommended to senior management that his group do a better job of keeping track of inventory.

They spent six months stabilizing the pilot system and then began to roll it out. This time it worked. "After that, even though I still have lots of stress -- even though there are things that burn a hole in my gut -- being tested made me more sure of myself," he says.

The Courage to Confront

"What do leaders need most? Strong followers." -- Troy Fellers

We often think of courage in terms of leadership, but courage is also needed for followship because many people become fearful during change. Those lacking courage won't speak up when their company is headed in the wrong direction. Confused between courage and loyalty, they won't confront their boss. That is a failure of followship far more serious than any disloyalty. It is not a disservice to challenge if you've given your boss loyalty in the little things, years of trustworthy service and a strong track record. It is not disloyal to question a course of action that puts the company at risk. Rather, it is timid and irresponsible to not challenge the consequences of bad decisions.

Getting on the wrong side of management -- going against the momentum toward a misguided goal -- can be extremely uncomfortable. But companies and their leadership make mistakes. Even the very best ones are a work in progress. It is up to you to challenge and change the company for the better.

To become strong leaders, we have to be willing to challenge and to be challenged. It takes courage to solicit feedback and act on criticism. But one in three employees who feel pressure attributes it to their supervisor or top management. Leaders with the most power are perceived to exert the greatest pressure on others to compromise their integrity. As leaders, we reflect the organization. We must provide the opportunity for our followers to speak up.

There are many who think it is safest to never speak up, safest not to rock the boat. They are the same people who never make waves or go out on a limb; the "yes men" who are widely disrespected within the organization. Those lacking courage will wind up getting by without getting results. People can be well networked and successful by material standards. But without courage, cynicism creeps through.

An acquaintance illustrates this chameleon-like behavior. Whatever his boss said, he was in complete agreement. Whatever the flavor of the day, that was his favorite. He was not a bad person -- for the most part he was harmless, even amusing, until the day his boss was put in a position of great authority.

This boss was a weak leader who depended on his followers. Based on their enthusiastic support, he made a disastrous decision that led to a series of events that, in turn, caused the company to lose millions, miss its earnings targets and see its share prices tumble. When it was all over, several careers had been ruined and dozens in management had lost their stock option retirement cushions.

This man still works for the company. He was not wholly responsible -– he is just a man whose lack of courage to confront issues cost his co-workers, his company and its shareholders. Yet every night he gets into his luxury car and drives to his executive house, home to his wife and young son. I've often wondered, how does he look into the eyes of his son? What kind of man will he raise him to be?

The Courage of Character

"If one is purely materialist, how satisfying can that be?
How can you respect yourself? They will eventually have
health problems from the stress of fighting themselves."
                                                                        -- Barbara Best

It takes courage to do what is right for the organization when there are high stakes of money, power and stock options at risk. My accountant tells me that if you want to know the character of a person, talk to her about her money. She will sit in her office and tell you things she's done and justify it by saying, "That's business."

A friend of mine, an investment broker, uses the same phrase. Last week he sat at my kitchen table. He looked exhausted, but he shrugged and said, "That's business." He had sold a high-risk investment to a client in Canada -- who subsequently lost $60,000.

My friend couldn't fall asleep until 2 a.m. that morning thinking about his client in Canada and the lost $60,000 that would have been his daughter's college tuition.

My friend is a man of character. He supports a pregnant wife and has no health insurance. He badly needs his job. But the call from Canada was the second call that week. And he can't sleep at night. So he is resigning his position.

My investment broker, on the other hand, has never lost a moment's sleep over all the money I've lost. And I tell you that you cannot separate work from home and say "That's business." You must lead with courage and character in all parts of your life.

The Courage to Lead

"My boss folded like an accordion
in front of the big boss." -- Doug Fortune

While courage in followship is important, courage is also needed for leadership. When employees perceive their leaders setting a good example of integrity, they feel less pressure to compromise integrity, observe less misconduct, are more satisfied with their organization and feel more valued. How big a difference does this make? 93% of employees who agree that the head of their organization "sets a good example of ethical business behavior" say they are satisfied with their organizations.

Courage is critical to leadership because people will not respect or follow a leader who will not stand up for them. It takes courage to fight for your people, to represent them when they can't speak for themselves. Both at home and at work, people are motivated by feelings of belonging and loyalty.

Jane (a pseudonym) was 28 when she faced the most difficult situation in her life. She found out that the owner of a distribution center had been stealing millions of dollars in materials from her company. As Jane investigated and dug deeper, she discovered that he had been kiting checks between several businesses he owned. Facing jail time on charges of theft and fraud, the owner committed suicide.

The man's workers blamed Jane and her company. Jane and her team flew to the site to manage the distribution center until they could close it down. The employees were disgruntled and dangerous -- the second shift employees were prisoners on work release.

Jane called corporate and requested security. Her boss told her not to pull her team out, not to leave until they could shut down the operation. But the security they sent was one elderly rent-a-cop.

Jane was torn between her obligation to the organization and her promise to protect her people. She struggled with her decision. Fully expecting the worst, Jane told her team to pack up and they flew back to corporate. Jane told me, "A career without courage is limiting -– how can you like the person in the mirror?"

The Cost of Courage

"If integrity is important to me,
there is a price associated." -- Harriet Seward

Often courage comes in the small everyday acts -- making the right decision. Often the decisions we make early in our career set the tone and define our reputation for the rest of our career. The most difficult decisions affect not only our career and family, but also the people who depend on us.

Courage sometimes comes with a cost. Several interview participants told stories of doing the right thing early in their career when their children were small and the stakes were especially high. Taking a stand sometimes meant losing their jobs.

Bernie Hale, now a consultant, had just graduated from college and started his first job as a sales manager for a regional carrier. There was a legendary traffic manager who controlled large volumes of freight for a potential client. Bernie had a meeting with the traffic manager, who then asked his assistants to leave the room. He said, "Buy my car new tires and you'll get the freight."

Bernie said, "Pardon me sir?" He didn't think he had heard right. College hadn't prepared him for this. Bernie excused himself and returned to the office. He struggled for two days. It wasn't just him -– the lives of 200 employees were in his hands.

Was he so pure that he could make a decision that affected his co-workers and drivers?

Bernie says, "It turned my stomach to challenge them. People lose their jobs doing what is right -– they answer to a higher calling." But where do you draw the line? This time it was tires, what would it be the next time -- a car? It took all his courage to pick up the phone and refuse the offer. The traffic manager slammed down the phone. Bernie didn't go to his boss until after he had made the decision. There was a long pause. There was no praise but his boss stood behind him.

Bernie's decision cost his company a lot of freight. It affected the company's economic existence because the freight went to a direct competitor, the full trailers sitting on the lot next door. The employees couldn't understand why they weren't getting the business and Bernie couldn't explain.

Years later, the traffic manager retired and Bernie got the freight, needing all available capacity to handle it. Bernie is now semi-retired, but he vividly remembers that day, the black suit he was wearing and how he felt.

He says, "Everything that happens to you becomes a building block as you grow older. They are character builders making us better spouses, better parents and better leaders. That is the reward for doing what is right."

Is Courage Innate?

"Sometimes our fears can grip us so tightly
we are not able to act." -- Harriett Seward

If courage comes with a cost, it must be its own reward -- at the end of the day, liking the person in the mirror, being able to sleep at night; at the end of your career, looking back without fear that you let yourself down.

The most fascinating discussion in my character-centered leadership interview series came from the question, "Is courage an innate trait or can it be developed?" Olympians and business leaders alike wrestled with the answer. The final consensus was that courage is a combination of nature and nurture.

But developing courage in those you lead can be difficult, especially when people have mortgages, kids in school and community involvement. Many people are afraid for their jobs today. The press reports the raw numbers of layoffs and unemployment statistics but not the anxiety, the holding of breath through each round of layoffs. People are reluctant to take risks when they feel they are expendable at the first sign of economic downturn.

For some people, their whole identity is wrapped up in their job title, company name and salary. When they lose their job, they leave a big chunk of themselves behind. Developing an identity outside of work can help build courage -- at the end of the day, you still get to go home to your family and life outside the office.

Others can't have courage because they are drowning in debt. They can't speak up or take a chance because they are living from paycheck to paycheck. Any interruption would bring financial ruin.

Sometimes, fear carries over from previous company experiences, but courage is innate in all of us and can be developed. You can create a culture of courage by encouraging your people to speak up in meetings and challenge the status quo.

Courage Comes from Commitment

"The many pressures of the marketplace can compromise
an individual's values to do what is expedient.
When people don 't feel invested in the organization,
they may not stand up for what is right.
This works against people being true to their values."
                                                                  -- Nancy Haslip

Courage comes from staying the course when it is uncomfortable or difficult. When there are 100 reasons to quit, you must have 101 reasons to stay. During the years it took to research and write this book, there were many times I wanted to give up. Friends and family questioned the marketability of the book and urged me to find a real job. But at each point of deep discouragement, someone always said, "What you are doing is important -– you must not quit," giving me the fresh courage to last a bit longer.

Courage comes from digging down deep when you can't take one more step, when your finances, energy and emotional reserves are drained and you think there is nothing left.

Ken Wappel, CEO of the LTA group, remembers sitting on the grimy floor of a warehouse in the worst neighborhood of Patterson, N.J. Ken and his partner sat for hours drinking a six-pack of Heinekens, not knowing what to do, trying to figure out how to get out of trouble. At the business's three-year point, payables were higher than receivables and the other partners wanted out. Ken felt it was one thing to walk away with a break even, but another thing to fail. He couldn't quit the business without paying the people who had trusted them.

After reviewing existing accounts, Ken fired his non-profitable accounts and went to his good customers, explained they were in trouble and needed to raise their rates. To his amazement, they agreed and the company went from a negative to a positive cash flow. Today, LTA serves the top 25 retailers in the country.

Courage Comes from Strength

"Judo puts you in situations where you have to have courage.
That builds the self-confidence to continue.
Judo just builds strong people."
                                -- Sandy Bacher, Three-time Olympian,
                                      World Gold medalist women's wrestling

As a competitor, I've learned that it is impossible to maintain peak physical performance year round. Instead I follow a training schedule to reach a peak level of performance and conditioning right before critical competitions. During the off season when competition slows, I rest, rejuvenate and repair muscle and cartilage. This concept of peak conditioning also applies to our professional lives. We must take care of our physical selves to reach peak professional performance.

Often in judo competition, matches are won and lost in the last 30 seconds of stamina, determination and the will to win. In practice, we put our students through 30-second drills. We wait until the end of class when the players are exhausted, out of breath and soaked with sweat. We put them through two rounds of fighting and tell them to imagine they are fighting for the Gold at the Olympics. When 30 seconds remain on the clock, we call out, "30 seconds – all you've got!" Somehow, from somewhere deep inside, they find a new burst of strength and energy to win the match.

When you are mentally and physically drained and all you want is to give up, where do you find the stamina to endure? Where do you draw the strength to continue? What sustains you? "My strength is wearing low, but I have confidence everything that happens is for a reason. Some good comes out of everything," writes an anonymous reader.

Courage comes from having the physical stamina to withstand stress. It is difficult to act with courage when your body is worn down from anxiety, fatigued from fighting health problems, or when you can't think clearly from the after-effects of too much alcohol.

During periods of high pressure and demanding schedules, it is easy to bury our stress and anxiety in food. We fight back fatigue with rich restaurant meals. But unrelenting stress takes a heavy toll on our bodies, accelerating the aging process. How many times can you grab a quick bite at your desk, work late and fight traffic without it wearing down your body?

Too often we take our bodies for granted, neglecting to develop the physical body as we do our minds and professional skills. We know that physicality provides stress relief and increases energy levels. The discipline of a strong body gives us mental and emotional strength. To have continued courage, we must replenish our strength with adequate rest, good nutrition and exercise to relieve stress.

Work will always win out over fitness unless you make it a higher priority. When you put it on a back burner, fitness can become one more thing to feel guilty about. We need a healthy diet and a strong body to have the stamina for the second halves of our careers.

When we excuse ourselves from working toward fitness, saying there is no time, we also take away an important outlet for stress. To make fitness a habit, it is important to find the right activity for you – one that feels like play. Being fit then is not so much a chore as a time for socializing or precious time alone. With practice, the craving for fitness becomes a hunger as real as food.

"My running time this morning is just as important as my meetings and phone calls. Running is an 'A' priority because I've made it an 'A' priority," says Larry Mercer. "The connection between fitness and job performance is absolute. Fitness is part of self-esteem. It shows that you value your life. Physical fitness makes you clearer, more precise." You have one body. Take care of it.

Courage Comes from Confidence

"Courage and leadership are synonymous.
Guide your people to do the right thing
and protect unpopular acts of courage.
You must have a covenant to protect
and encourage in that path." -- Fred Ball

You can develop courage in your own department by having courage yourself and expecting it in others, by letting the people you lead see your courage in your daily actions. Sometimes we must borrow courage from others to develop our own. In sharing your strength, your people will reflect your courage in their own decisions.

Courage comes from reaching a level of maturity; from being comfortable in your own skin and confident in your leadership, when you reach a point of trying to improve but are no longer trying to impress.

Courage comes with practice and past experiences – repetition and small successes build confidence. You can develop courage in the people you lead by giving them responsibility. Talk through both the risks and the value of what they are doing. Walk them through the tough decisions and protect them from political fallout. When your people make mistakes, stand behind them and give them the chance to make it right. As their confidence grows from each small success they will become braver.

Courage comes from facing the consequences. If you are so fearful of a negative outcome, you will not be able to act with courage. Ask yourself, "What is the worst thing that will happen if I act on my conviction? Can I face the possibility of being fired? Can I bear the consequences of marginalization and losing my power base?"

Then ask, "What is the worst thing that will happen if I don't?" Will you risk your reputation, become embittered, transfer to another department or leave the company?

Courage Comes from Heart

We tell our competitors that how you conduct yourself on the mat carries over to all parts of your life. We teach them to bow respectfully to their opponent, to fight hard, to accept wins and losses with equal measures of humility and grace. Sport, taught correctly, builds character.

When I took my coaching certification class, it was easy. Although I was new to coaching, I applied all the managerial principles I'd been using for years. Over the years, I've seen many naturally gifted athletes come and go. I'd rather coach a less talented, hard working athlete who has a clear mind and strong heart.

One of the privileges of being a coach is to watch athletes grow in confidence and courage with each competition. Often, it is hard to keep fighting. I ask my competitors, "How badly do you want it?" I push them hard in practice, demanding their best effort, praising and pushing in equal measures. "You have to believe it," I tell them when I see the doubt and fear in their eyes. As a coach, I've learned that techniques can be taught and courage can be developed. But it takes an athlete who is all heart to push past failure and disappointment, and stay in the game.

We coached a seven-year-old boy, Jonathan, with a blond crew cut and big blue eyes. He was regularly beaten in practice by his partners. I told Jonathan, "You have to believe you can do it before you'll be able to throw him," but he became more timid, ending several practices in tears. Hoping to encourage him, Jonathan's father took him to a small, beginner's tournament. Our hearts sank when we saw his opponent bow onto the mat wearing a brown belt from another martial art.

The entire team sat on the side of the mat, cheering Jonathan on. We held our breath as he fought his heart out. To our amazement, Jonathan threw the brown belt for a full point, winning the match. He lost his second match, then came back to beat the brown belt again in the third match. He bowed off the mat to the cheers, hugs and back slapping congratulations of his teammates.

At the next practice, Jonathan was promoted to his yellow belt. With newfound confidence and determination, he started winning matches in practice and competition. About six months later, Jonathan was fighting a gold medal match. In the middle of the match, Jonathan spit his tooth out and handed it to the referee. He walked back to his starting line, while the referee watched dumb founded. The referee swallowed hard, put the tooth in his pocket, and re-started the match. Jonathan kept fighting, winning the match and the gold medal.

In business we sometimes face complex moral issues. Sports competition is more clear-cut; there is a winner and loser. If you do the right thing for your company, but get fired, have you won or lost? Clearly there has been a high cost. But if you leave with your character intact you have a moral victory.

Courage Comes from Culture

"In World War II, fighter pilots were led on
by other pilot's courage." -- Mel Paisley

In the early 1990s at The Home Depot, an orientation video told the story of the courage Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank displayed in starting the company after being fired from Handy Dan. The story was part of the folklore that made them our heroes and the core of Depot's strong corporate culture. When I joined the company, I spent 90 days traveling to the stores, learning the home improvement business and building relationships. Being a female director was a big deal back then. On my store visits, female associates would rush up to meet me and tell me how proud they were of my accomplishment.

I had been with Home Depot for four months when I attended my first storewide meeting. I did a lot of listening to the 300 plus store managers who had been like older brothers to me. I sat quietly at a divisional meeting as they discussed high turnover problems with the mostly female cashiers. They couldn't understand why the women were leaving. It was obvious to me that the women didn't think they had the same opportunities that were minting millionaires through the store manager development program.

One of the few women in the room, I listened as long as I could, then took the microphone as it passed around the room. Heart thudding, I made an impassioned, impromptu speech about giving the women the same opportunities and challenges in the management training program. "Work them as hard," I exhorted. "Expect as much, but give them the same opportunities." When I finished, there was a moment of total silence that stretched on forever. I stood there thinking, "I've blown it. I wonder if I can quietly pack my bags and catch the next flight home." The room erupted in applause and shouts of approval. Just when I started to breathe again, the room went silent. No one had noticed that Bernie had quietly slipped into the back of the room.

My heart sank as Bernie strode to the front of the room and snatched the microphone from my hand. I was sure to be fired and sent home in disgrace. "She's right," Bernie said, "Just because she's not standing next to you at the urinal, doesn't mean she can't do the job." I sank into my chair, weak with relief, as Bernie continued to lecture the store managers about opportunities for all associates. I learned a lesson about the courage of my convictions that day.

Courage Comes from Pushing Past Fear

"This is my life and my business. I don 't want to end up
knocking on the door of the homeless shelter,
asking if they can spare a cot. I'm putting everything I have
into this business. That is a little bit terrifying at times.
I have to bear down and work through the fear." -- Wendy Tarzian

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather pushing forward in the face of that fear. For an athlete, the very worst thing is to know you gave your all and it was not enough. But maybe the very worst thing is to not give your all and always wonder what might have happened. Maybe the worst thing is to look back at the end of your career and be filled with regret over risks not taken.

To be a courageous leader you need to operate from your bedrock of beliefs. Courage comes from what you must do. From believing in something so strongly that you will do whatever it takes. From being who you are no matter where you are. We've all heard of top athletes using visualization to increase athletic performance. Jimmy Pedro, judo World Champion and three time Olympian took visualization a step further. "You have to believe it can happen before you are capable of becoming a champion," he says.

He not only pictured himself beating his opponents, he pictured what it would feel like, the goose bumps from standing on the medal stand, hearing our national anthem, feeling the weight of that heavy gold medal around his neck. Jimmy believed he could win the World Championships and made it a reality.

But back in the corporate world, sometimes in the time pressures and heat of work demands, we get in a hurry and make mistakes. We lose sight of our fundamental beliefs. Holding tight to your core values will keep you grounded.

A study on social courage showed that participants held more firmly to what they knew was the truth when they wrote it down. How strong is your commitment to living by your values?

In our unforgiving environment where even CEOs are shuffled every few years, you have to have something to hold onto. You have to be able to say, "This is who I am, this is what I believe, and this is what I stand for."

Show Courage in the Strength of your Character

"Courage, bravery, valor — these words have been tied to the military,
but they also refer to the inner battles raging within us." -- John Ridley

The courage of character is old-fashioned stuff. It often comes out in crises -- the small voice that says, "You are better than this," when you need a shower to wash away the unpleasantness of the day; when you question the person you've become and whether you much like being that person. This is who you are with the veneer stripped off.

As you think about your own life and career, is there an area where you need courage? You may have to dig down deep to find it. But with hard work, determination and commitment, it is possible. Because courage is in you, it shows in the strength of your character and the quality of your leadership. As courage becomes part of your core values, you will lead with both head and heart. And you will look back at the end of your career without regrets because you will have given it your all.

Most of us are never tested in a dramatic fashion. We don't represent our country at the Olympics. We don't ever have to make those "you bet your career" type of decisions. Many of us have not faced the great challenges that strengthen our resolve. But practicing courage in the small moments and everyday acts and decisions prepares you for the time you will have to face down your fear.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Winning Your Way, Inc. ©2003.

Article Source

Winning Without Losing Your Way: Character-Centered Leadership
by Rebecca Barnett.

Winning Without Losing Your Way by Rebecca BarnettAs we have a greater sense of self, our values become seamless and integrated in all that we do. We want to belong to a workplace where people share a sense of purpose beyond making money. Winning echoes the concerns of corporate life; it is especially helpful for those going through a transition. As we pause to take a measure of our success, we begin to ask, "What will I lose with all this winning?" Through sharing the hard-won wisdom of over 100 business leaders you will learn how setting a midlife measurement of success to protect your relationships, health and prosperity results in greater organizational profits and performance.

Info/Order this book.

About the Author

Rebecca Barnett

Rebecca Barnett is the founder of Winning Your Way, Inc. , specializing in keynote presentations and seminars on character-centered leadership. Rebecca has more than a dozen years of executive experience for America's most admired retailers including The Home Depot and Dollar General. She holds a M.A. in Organizational Communication from Western Kentucky University, where she is an adjunct professor and a B.S. in business from The Ohio State University.


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