Career SkillsLessons on Leadership

Three Tips for Growing your Courage at Work

By Jacquelyn Adams

In our last article, we talked about the importance of courage in the workplace. Unfortunately, recognizing the role and acknowledging the value of courage does not automatically mean that we’re ready and able to practice this virtue. It’s yet another thing in life that requires work. Annoying, isn’t it? But still, it’s true that courage, like a muscle, needs to be trained and strengthened for it to serve us effectively. So today, our question is, how do we grow our courage? Luckily, Roi Ben-Yehuda, CEO and Founder of NextArrow has given the topic some thought. NextArrow’s mission is to help leaders and teams develop courage to achieve excellence. Here’s his advice on how to strengthen our courage.

Focus Out

There are many times and ways that self-absorption can be our Achilles Heel. When it comes to moments when our courage fails us, often it is because we’re focused on ourselves and all the ways we can fail. We’re stuck in a fear paradigm where we do a lot of negative self-talk. Ben-Yehuda points out that it can sound like this:

  • What if I say something wrong?
  • They’ll think I’m stupid.
  • They won’t like me.

While this form of self-absorption is a negative view of self (rather than pride or narcissism), it’s self-absorption just the same. It’s all about me, me, and more me — and in the end, it serves no one.

Since our fear is centered on ourselves, we can find courage by looking outwards. Instead of “me,” we can focus on a person, value or cause that transcends ourselves. As Ben-Yehuda explains:

“Show me your courage and I’ll show you what you care about. Research shows us that one of the most powerful ways to engender courage is to link your behavior to something other than yourself. Too often, we get in our own way by ruminating about how failure will impact us. The solution to this self-centered mindset is to flip the script. Make your courage about others: Who will benefit from your action?  What values are at stake?  What cause can you link your courage to?”

Finding Your Focus

As Ben-Yehuda reminds us, linking our courage to something beyond ourselves can be done in multiple ways. We can focus on people, values and causes.

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Person: We can often find this inspiration for courage from people in our past, present or future. For Ben-Yehuda, for example, it’s his children, “I often think about how my actions, or inaction, will impact their future. Linking my decision to them is enough to give me the courage to do the hard thing.”

Selecting a courage role model is a another powerful way to inspire action. Such role models show us what’s possible. This can be done with anyone who inspires courage: The women who spoke truth to power during the #MeToo movement; a co-worker who overcame a speech impediment to lead his team; or a pizza delivery man who jumped in a burning building to save a family.

Values: Connecting our actions to values is another effective way to generate courage. “Some values put you in the caution zone,” explains Ben-Yehuda, “while others place you in the courage zone. For example, values around security, conformity and loyalty tend to discourage risk, while values such as justice, integrity and growth encourage it. So, the question to ask yourself is: What will I stand for when all the impulses in my body tell me to sit down? Which value will I lean into?”

Remembering Your Focus

But in those moments of courage, as fears try to drown us, it can be easy to lose sight of our goal. That inner voice yelling “Me!” can be so loud. How do we keep our focus? Well, there are some tools that Ben-Yehuda recommends as we continue to strengthen that courage muscle. He says using a phrase, object or physical reminder of our focus can redirect our attention and provide that extra push when trying to choose courage.

  • Phrase: Instead of focusing on the negative self-talk we previously discussed, it can be helpful to have our own phrases ready to help drown them out. Of course, there will always be the fear of looking stupid, but our chosen phrases can remind us of what is important to us. For example:  “I’m here to give” or “This is an opportunity” or “Courage over comfort” or “This is not about me.”
  • Object: A photo, screensaver or talisman can be a tangible reminder of our focus. This can be helpful when our heads feel overwhelmed, it literally gives us something to hold onto and focus on. Ben-Yehuda shared that since he draws his strength from his children, he keeps a picture of them in his office to remind himself why he wants to live courageously.
  • Physical reminder: Just as athletes have been seen touching their hands to their heart, then head and then pointing up, we can also have mannerisms that help ground us. Whether it’s touching our heart or our own unique action, these are small things that we can do anywhere to remind ourselves of who we are and who we want to be.

In the end, that is what it is all about. Who do we want to be? Who inspires us to be more like that person? What values ground us? What phrase, object or physical reminder can help us to make those hard decisions? It’s about drowning out that negative self-talk and focusing outside of ourselves. And to that end, we thank Ben-Yehuda for his insights as we use his tutelage to make braver choices today, tomorrow and all the days after.

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Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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