by Debra Black
For seven years, Bill Treasurer traveled around the country as a member of the U.S. high diving team. The only problem was, the high diver had a profound fear of heights.
With the help of a coach and mentor, he was able to gradually get comfortable diving off higher and higher platforms. Today, he is the originator and promoter of a new leadership practice he calls courage building.
"Each person is called, personally and professionally, to take high dives. Everybody has high dive moments in their life, and certainly in their career," he told members of the Retail Consortium for Management Education on September 7.
"What's your high dive? What is the platform you may need to get off? Now that I've had a coach help me get off my platform of safety, I see that as my job too: to help activate the courage that you already have. To help you do the thing you know you should be doing, but fear is getting in the way."
Treasurer and his company, Giant Leap Consulting, have been helping people and organizations to be more courageous since 2002. He is the author of Courage Goes to Work, an internationally best-selling book about managerial courage; the book Right Risk; and a new off-the-shelf training program, Courageous Leadership. The RCME workshop was based on that program.
"Courageous leadership is a topic that seems to be resonating right now, because we are in high-anxiety times: whether it's tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, fear of terrorism, or the uncertainty of the economic climate. And the economic piece of that causes people in the workplace to get a lot of pressure," said Treasurer. Pressure to get profits, get revenue, generate more sales.
"Leadership is about times just like now; that's what calls forth the best of our leadership. Courage is not fearlessness. It's about meeting the challenges, despite that you may in fact be afraid," he said.
There are two ways to get people motivated to keep companies improving.
"We can either encourage courageous behavior and face these challenging times, or we can hunker down and play it safe and use fear to try to motivate people," he said. "Inspiring people through fear and threats gets exactly the opposite long-term results of what you're really looking to do. Fear has debilitating impacts on performance," he said. Treasurer led participants through breakout dialogues and activities that compared the two leadership styles.
Everyone is a risk taker as well as a risk avoider, he said, and we've all been courageous in various aspects of our lives.
"You already have a wealth of experience in the area of courage and risk-taking. How do you activate it personally and access it quickly? How do you activate it for other people, to help them find the courage that's inside of them?"
Courage 101: Four Premises of Courage Building
Treasurer outlined the basis of courage:
- Courage is a teachable and learnable skill. You've been taught courage since the training wheels came off your bicycle. You need to continue to learn.
- Everybody has the capacity to be courageous. Just as there is a part of your brain associated with fear, there is also a newly identified part of your brain associated with courage.
- People perform better, for longer periods of time, with higher engagement, when they're operating out of confidence, courage, and conviction, than when they're operating out of fear and anxiety
- The entire organization benefits when each person shows up to work each day with just a little more courage. There is an aggregate benefit.
"We exist along a continuum of safety-seeking behavior to opportunity-seeking behavior. If you're not in your comfort zone, you are stretching yourself: you're in your discomfort zone. Human and organizational growth and development, individually and collectively, do not happen in a zone of comfort," said Treasurer.
If you are in a position of leadership, your job is to shepherd people out of comfort and into discomfort. But not so much that they can't absorb it and get petrified.
RCME participants talked about sources of courage they can draw upon in their workplace, reasons they avoid acting with courage at work, instances of where courage is needed but avoided, and the benefits if everyone were acting more courageously. Discussion revolved around things that leaders can do to build courage, and the things leaders do that erode or undermine courage.
Three Buckets of Courage
Treasurer outlined three different types of courage:
TRY Courage: Courage of action. When we are asked to attempt something new; associated with 'stepping up,' first attempts, pioneering action. It requires overcoming inertia, and the expenditure of energy.
TRUST Courage: Courage of releasing the need to control. Courage of inaction and vulnerability. Following another's lead, regardless of whether they're in a leadership position or not. To build strong bonds of human connection, trust is needed in the relationship. The number one dysfunction of a team is lack of trust.
TELL Courage: Courage of truth telling, voice, and assertiveness. Honesty is the number one thing we look for in leader. Tell Courage is associated with "speaking out" and requires independence of thought.
"Courage is the most important business virtue. I believe if you get the courage right first, you become better at conflict, in a productive way. You become a better communicator. You're more honest and transparent with people. You become a better presenter, because you're willing to do it over and over to get the skills," said Treasurer.
"I've got this funky little piece of artwork on the door to my office. It says, 'And a day came when the risk of remaining tight in a bulb was more dangerous than the risk of blossoming.'
"I like to think I'm in the blossom business and I have to help you find your courage and activate it. And if you're in a leadership role, that's what you need to do, too."
"Courage is the first virtue, because it makes all the other virtues possible."