Who wins in a courageous workforce? Everyone. With fewer anxieties and fears—and more grit and determination—courageous workers take on more challenging projects, cope better with change, and speak up on important issues. The boss and the company benefit, and by improving their own performance, employees do, too.
Building this kind of winning workforce, however, requires both will and skill. To start, you must understand the three specific types of courage—TRY Courage, TRUST Courage, and TELL Courage—and learn how to develop them in workers within all levels of your organization.
In work or life, we see progress when we attempt new and uncomfortable things. TRY Courage is the courage used in making these first attempts or when something is reattempted after a significant failure. When situations require one to take hold of opportunities, blaze new trails, or apply hands-on leadership, it’s time to fill up the TRY Courage reserves.
TRY Courage impacts everyone in your organization, including you. Most new work tasks don’t come with training wheels. So, when you attempt something new, such as leading a new project, you run the risk of crashing, both visibly and publicly. People are watching. How you perform as the leader of a new project will impact your boss’s success, so he or she is watching. Your success or failure as the project leader will affect your team members, so they are watching, too.
Because of the heightened scrutiny that comes with stepping up to challenges, many people remain comfortable in the current situation. To help them develop and build TRY Courage instead:
Jump first. Good leaders and managers are good role models. As the founder of every company knows, you can’t reap unless you leap! The best way to infuse the workforce with the will to try is for leaders to jump first.
Play to their strengths. Build on employees’ existing capabilities and strengths when assigning risky new tasks or projects. It’s easier to be courageous when you bring some experience to the table.
Highlight the danger in playing it safe. For employees, job security comes from expanding capabilities, gaining new experiences, and attempting new tasks—which employees won’t get if they’re constantly playing it safe. Highlight that safety is best secured by taking calculated risks instead of hanging on the sidelines.
As much as you want your employees to become leaders themselves, you also want them to follow you and your directives. To do that, they have to trust you. They have to know they can rely on your words and actions. When workers have ample TRUST Courage, they’re receptive to your directions, open to your feedback, and mature in how they handle your criticisms. Their TRUST Courage is strengthened when you honor them in the same way.
To help workers develop and build TRUST Courage:
Trust first. It’s tempting for people to turn trust into a quid pro quo: I will give you trust after you give me trust. But these strategies almost always produce a stalemate, with no one trusting anyone. Trust first—period.
Build trust from the get-go. It’s been said that there’s no such thing as “instant trust.” I disagree. Under the right conditions, trust can be gained surprisingly quickly. From the get-go, establish the ground rules in keeping confidences, as well as your expectations regarding the professionalism with which workers communicate with each another.
Learn what employees value. People trust each other when they’re willing to become vulnerable. Knowing coworkers’ values, hopes, and fears helps you to understand their deepest motivations and intentions. Instead of having people “prove” their trustworthiness to you, spend time learning about who they are and what they value.
TELL Courage is the courage of telling the truth, regardless of how uncomfortable that truth may be for others to hear. Of all the courage types, it’s the least used in the workplace, particularly at the lower levels. Sure, I can hear you thinking, “What’s hard about speaking your mind?” The truth is that workers can and do get fired for being too blunt and undiplomatic. Facing this, many choose the “safer” approach of withholding their opinions and sugarcoating their words so that they sound more agreeable.
However, when employees have enough courage to assert their opinions candidly, to sell their ideas with tenacity, or even to give feedback constructively, they become more confident people. Managers’ jobs become easier, and teamwork improves. How do you help workers develop this kind of TELL Courage?
Take action. Few things are as frustrating as mustering up the courage to tell your bosses something only to have it fall on deaf ears. When appropriate and feasible, honor people’s TELL Courage by taking action on what they say.
Encourage precision. To be most effective, TELL Courage requires advanced thought and precision. Ask workers to know—in precise terms—what they hope to achieve and what they’ll say to make it happen.
Be careful what you wish for. You may think you want your workers to have more TELL Courage, but when they start telling you things in an unvarnished way, you may find yourself taking it personally. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll consider each person’s words, regardless of how hard they are to hear, without responding rashly or defensively. Have the courage to get told to!
Bill Treasurer is a workplace expert, a courage pioneer, and the author of Courage Goes to Work: How to Build Backbones, Boost Performance, and Get Results. As founder of Giant Leap Consulting, a consulting and training company specializing in courage building, he advises organizations—including NASA, eBay, Lenovo, Saks Fifth Avenue, Spanx, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates—on teaching workers the kind of courage that strengthens businesses and careers. Learn more at GiantLeapConsulting.com.