• Teresa Carey

Creating a Courageous Culture

Updated: Nov 11

“The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing. It’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.” Brene’ Brown


Acknowledging what we can control and pressing in harder than ever to those certainties has kept many of us marching forward these past months. It’s been unsettling at times as we’ve been thrown realities never imagined. Many have continued to pivot, while others have regained traction or held on to the momentum already started.


In meeting with leaders daily from successful rapid growth organizations, there’s a common theme in their approach and behavior. It became a constant companion when taking on the gutsy personal and professional risks at start up, and it’s been a close friend at every milestone since.


What is it? What’s critical in preparing for every single change along the path to sustainability and growth?


“The one virtue we first need to have is courage”, as Winston Churchill reminded us, “because it’s the only one that guarantees all others.”


As it turns out, there are two kinds of courage, according to professors and authors, Lopez and Snyder in their work on the psychology behind courage. The first kind of courage they identified is vital courage. It’s based on “an inspiration driven by the need to improve our chance for survival.” At its core resides fear of loss mentality. So consequently, it shows up first with the, “what’s in it for me?” mentality, later followed by, “how might this help the organization?”


The second source of courage is based on desire, and it’s translated into moral courage. Moral courage is grounded in “the authentic expression of one’s beliefs and values in the pursuit of the common good despite power differentials, dissent, disapproval or rejection.” MoraI courage may or may not result in personal gain. It’s original and primal motive is always based on the greater good of the organization.


Vital courage focuses on holding on vs. letting go. It thinks of personal gain first. How will I look in this situation? How will it affect my team? What will happen to me if this does or doesn’t work? Hiring a new role for the sake of public perception, or, buying a new system to create improved efficiencies for those purposes alone may be considered as decisions based on vital courage.


The leader with moral courage might choose to take a raw, unpopular stand publicly based on the organization’s values. Or encourage the highest performer from his or her team go to another team even though it may slow his team’s productivity, or overall effectiveness. This courage would also prompt helping another person cross-functionally for the greater good, although it means falling behind on his or her own goals.


Is vital courage bad? No. Both must co-exist to maintain motivation and engagement as well as the focus on the greater organizational goal. However, today’s environment likely calls for a higher ratio of moral courage.


As leaders, how do we create a more morally courageous culture?


1- Choose people with the needed fortitude to serve as moral culture champions. Give them acceptable levels of risk to explore and exploit. Encourage them to create circles of courage, or cross-functional teams that can be vulnerable in socializing courageous ideas and executing on them.


2- Empower team members at the lowest level. It’s hard to be courageous if you don’t have the green light and subsequent psychological safety to demonstrate courage. If required to check in, ask permission, or go through the next level manager/leader on everything, moral courage can never be unleashed.


3- Reward courage. Write notes to team members recognizing courageous behaviors. Highlight stories in the context of courage at staff lunches and in firmwide communication. Provide hero awards for taking risks.


Net net? It takes courage to build a morally courageous culture - at any time - and especially during a time such as this.

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