When it comes to corporate management and boards of directors, we talk little of courage except to cite the vague concept of managerial courage, which, at best, really only means that you will make the choices you have to make to do your job as expected.
If a word is made up of a sound and a meaning, it would seem that courage has become a sound without meaning, which is to say that we recognize the word when we hear it, when someone brings it up, but, really, no one is sure what exactly it means.
We can create university degrees in governance, business administration or management, but courage is not a value that can be codified or taught.
Courage is not a matter of doing your job as expected, which is just basic competence. No, courage is a quality of the heart that involves thinking about the problem and judiciously rejecting the easy road under difficult circumstances. Courage doesn’t exist in theory; it can only be demonstrated in action.
Just like ethics, courage requires a little less of oneself and a little more of others. A courageous person puts aside his or her personal interest in the short term in order to fulfill the company’s reason for existing.
In conducting business, how many people, when faced with adversity, prefer to look away, cover their eyes or say that’s not my problem? How many take the easy road? How many will say my hands are tied, I don’t have any choice?
It is important to note that courage is not the absence of fear; a courageous person can be afraid under difficult circumstances. However, a courageous person will measure the danger, assess the actions than can be taken, overcome fear and do what can be done under the circumstances. Courage is different from recklessness, which, after all, is just charging ahead without thinking. Recklessness is simply an excess of courage without reflection.
As managers and as leaders, you always have a choice. In fact, you were appointed to exercise that choice. So it’s not a question of knowing whether or not you have a choice, but rather of whether you have the courage to make that choice. In other words: will you have the strength of heart to do what has to be done?
Unfortunately, when we observe the life of an organization, we see (too) many examples of people choosing comfort over courage. Comfort is a nice word, but that comfort is really just cowardice in disguise. To be sure, cowardice isn’t as nice a word, but it’s more accurate.
Think about it for a moment: without courage, we become heartless.
In a rapidly changing society, we need role models and heroes more than mercenaries of dubious allegiance. That’s why, in conducting business, we have to rehabilitate courage, to understand how it differs from recklessness, and to do the right thing.
And with heart.
If courage leads to heroism, lack of courage leads to cynicism.