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Courage Goes to Work

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The hardest part of a manager's job isn't staying organized, meeting deliverable dates, or staying on budget. It's dealing with people who are too comfortable doing things the way they've always been done and too afraid to do things differently—workers who are, as author Bill Treasurer puts it, too “comfeartable.” Such workers fail to exert themselves any more than they have to, equating “just enough” with good enough. By avoiding even mild challenges, these workers thwart forward progress and make their businesses dangerously safe.
To combat this affliction, Treasurer proposes a bold antidote: courage. In Courage Goes to Work, he lays out a comprehensive, step-by-step process that treats courage as a skill that can be developed and strengthened. He Treasurer shows how managers can build workplace courage by modeling courageous behavior themselves, creating an environment where people feel safe taking chances and helping workers deal with fear.
To make the concept of courage more concrete, Treasurer identifies what he calls the Three Buckets of Courage: Try Courage, having the guts to take initiative; Trust Courage, being willing to follow the lead of others; and Tell Courage, being honest and assertive with coworkers and bosses. He illustrates each with a variety of vivid real-world examples and offers proven practices for helping your workers keep each bucket full.
Aristotle said that courage is the first virtue because it makes all other virtues possible. It's as true in business as it is in life. With more courage, workers gain the necessary confidence to take on harder projects, embrace company changes with more enthusiasm, and extend themselves in ways that will benefit their careers and their company. Courage Goes to Work is the first book to take a systematic approach to developing a vital but overlooked component of business success.

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Chapter 1 Look Before You Leap

ePub

The most dangerous strategy is to jump into a chasm in two leaps.

Benjamin Disraeli

Dustin Webster was scared; that much was clear. It was unusual to see him this way. Dustin is the kind of employee that a supervisor dreams of. A real go-getter, Dustin always got to work on time (often early), undeterred by the Seattle traffic and unfazed by Seattle’s soggy mariner weather. With Dustin, such things never prompted grousing or pessimism. He had more important things on his mind, like pitching in, helping out, and getting the job done. So seeing Dustin scared, really scared, was way out of pattern.

Looking back on it now, I’m sure Dustin’s fear had something to do with the nature of the task. For Dustin, this was a pioneering endeavor. While he had plenty of skills to 18 draw upon, and he had confronted plenty of other work challenges, this assignment went well beyond Dustin’s comfort zone and into foreign terrain.

Firsts often provoke fear. I’m sure that Dustin had felt the same fearful feelings on his first day of school, or the first time he drove a car, or the first time he kissed a girl. These feelings were also at work the first time he led one of our team meetings, or the time I tapped him to be in charge when I got called out of town to temporarily lead another project.

 

Chapter 2 Jumping First

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Each person must live their life as a role model for others.

Rosa Parks

High divers are a crazy bunch, quite comfortable doing uncomfortable and unnatural things—after all, if we were meant to fly, God would have given us wings. But despite our willingness to take unnatural leaps, one particular high-dive opportunity held little appeal for any of us. The team had been asked to perform during the annual Osmond Family Fourth of July extravaganza at Brigham Young Stadium in Provo, Utah. We were part of a lineup that included Donny and Marie, the rest of the Osmond family, singer Crystal Gayle, and actor Mr. T. More than fifty thousand spectators were expected to attend the show.

In addition to our performing a sensational repertoire 32 of Olympic-style dives, the entire extravaganza was to culminate in a huge fireworks display as a high diver plunged from the top of the ladder while holding two lit flares, one in each hand. The dive was to be performed to “The Flight of the Bumble Bee,” the frenetic musical piece from the opera Tsar Sultan. But there was a little problem. Unbeknownst to the Osmond family, none of us bigshot divers wanted to do the spectacular crescendo dive. First of all, the dive would be done in the glare of a blinding spotlight after all the other stadium lights were shut off. Second, diving with two lit flares would severely limit the diver’s arm movement, something that is critical for performing aerial acrobatics. Finally, having to dive among all the exploding pyrotechnics presented dangers beyond reason. The thought of getting blown up by an errant skybomb was less than inviting.

 

Chapter 3 Create Safety Nets

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Safety first… because accidents last.

Unknown

Over the years, a lot of people have inspired me with their courage. But none as much as my four-year-old daughter, Tobina. Bina, as we call her, has cerebral palsy. She is also profoundly deaf. Both challenges are the byproducts of a virulent staph infection she contracted at the hospital just days after she was born.

Americans with disabilities make up the largest minority population in the United States. Some 54 million Americans have a disability of one form or another. And anyone who has been graced by the company of such people knows what a blessing it can be. It can also be heartbreaking. During Bina’s first year, it became clear that she was lagging behind 42 her twin brother, Alex, in significant ways. Alex rolled over. Bina didn’t. Alex crawled. Bina didn’t. Alex responded to our baby talk. Bina didn’t. Alex received adoring smiles from strangers. Bina didn’t.

At first, all I could focus on was Bina’s disabilities, which caused me a lot of anger. I’d think, “Why did this happen to her? Who caused this?” and “Why can’t she do the things her brother can do?” Then, just before she turned two, a friend of mine wisely suggested that I start focusing on Bina’s abilities, not her disabilities. When I heeded my friend’s advice, Bina started progressing much more rapidly. In some strange way, my anger had become a block to Bina’s progress. Looking back, I suspect that I had begun to pigeonhole Bina as “handicapped” and in subtle ways was treating her as such.

 

Chapter 4 Harness Fear

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Courage is knowing what not to fear.

Plato

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.

Ambrose Redmoon

Why do some people move toward their fears, while others move away from them? It is precisely this question that I grappled with during the writing of my first book, Right Risk. It might surprise you to learn that a lot of authors don’t write about what they know; they write about what they want to know. And I wanted to know why I chose to deal with my fear of heights by becoming a high diver. When confronted with fear, why did I move toward it instead of away from it?

If you judge Right Risk by its cover, you might draw the inaccurate conclusion that the book is opinion-based—an ex-athlete’s lopsided treatise on the importance of risk taking. In reality, the book is quite research-based. To discover 58 the answer to my question, I searched out all the information I could find on subjects related to risk, fear, and courage. Eventually I found the Rosetta stone I was looking for, and it came from the work of Michael J. Apter.

 

Chapter 5 Modulate Comfort

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There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.

John F. Kennedy

I started my career in organizational development facilitating team-building programs. Having spent seven years as a member of the U.S. High Diving Team, I was able to incorporate my own experiences (and frustrations) as a team member into the facilitated sessions. Before long I had facilitated some five hundred team-building workshops for teams of all shapes and sizes. My experiences as a team member and as a team-building facilitator have taught me that bored teams are in far worse shape than those that are overworked. Rustout is worse than burnout when it comes to performance.

I once led a team-building workshop for an information 68 technology project team of a large communications company. The team was responsible for maintaining the software of the company’s antiquated billing system. As a regulated entity, the company was ridiculously bureaucratic. The budgeting process alone was a nightmare. Most budgets weren’t approved until at least six months into the year for which the budget was created. This meant that “critical” IT projects that were slated to begin in January couldn’t get started until at least July, regardless of how urgent the project. Most project-completion dates, however, did not change. So project teams were in an impossible whiplash position. For the first six months of the year they’d sit on their duffs. But once the budget was approved, they’d work like firefighters at a gas explosion. Such was the case with the team I got called in to work with, except that I got them during the duff-sitting period.

 

Chapter 6 Fillers and Spillers

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There is no such thing as a “self-made” man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.

George Matthew Adams

If the employees provide the competitive advantage for some companies to be leaders, they are also the source of competitive disadvantage for average or substandard companies… employees create just as many problems as they solve.

E. L. Kersten

“Are you kidding me? Do you realize how at-risk you just put us? Why in the hell would you tell that to our client? How much money we make is none of their business, and you just gave them all sorts of leverage that they will now use against us. You can’t trust clients with information like that—believe me, they will take advantage of you every time. You’ve been here too long to keep making such rookie moves.”

If I were a cartoonist, I would draw little puffs of smoke steaming out of Susan’s ears. I’d draw thin, tightly pursed lips stretched into a frown. I’d draw bifocals perched at the end of Susan’s nose, with her casting down her eyes at me like a prudish librarian. I’d then draw a bubble over her head with 88 the words that she wasn’t saying but was clearly thinking: “You dumb-ass.”

 

Chapter 7 TRY Courage

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Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.

Dale Carnegie

The most recognizable form of courage, TRY Courage is the courage of first attempts—trying something for the very first time. Think back, for example, to your first day of school, or your first kiss, or the first time you drove a car. At the time, these firsts were, for you, pioneering events, thresholds that you had to cross over to ensure your advancement as a member of the human community. While such firsts look ordinary now, when you were actually contending with them, you were probably desperately nervous.

Managers contend with “trying firsts” all the time. Remember, for example, when you first moved into a management role? Or when you first became responsible for the 102 performance of an employee? Or when your boss asked you to lead a pioneering initiative for your division? All of those things required TRY Courage on your part. Similarly, your direct reports contend with trying situations when they struggle to learn a new and more sophisticated software system, or uproot their families and relocate to a different geographic area, or become responsible for a project of their own for the first time. Such situations are ripe for the development of TRY Courage.

 

Chapter 8 TRUST Courage

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To me, there is no greater act of courage than being the one who kisses first.

Janeane Garofolo

The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.

Henry Stimson

The act of trusting often requires letting go of our need to control outcomes or people, our defense mechanisms, and our preconceptions about what is “right.” For hard-driving controlling types, such as the coffee-clutching professionals who make up much of today’s workforce, this goes against the grain of everything they stand for. Trust runs counter to the take-charge ethos that typifies today’s business world. In many companies, the most valued employees are those who, when encountering challenging situations, control chaos, force order, and take decisive action. As the Roman poet Virgil said, “Fortune favors the bold.”

TRUST Courage, for managers, is a tricky thing. On the 126 one hand, you need your employees to trust you so that they follow your direction enthusiastically. On the other hand, you have to monitor their performance, which, if done too closely, often feels distrusting. Plus many managers work in companies layered with systems that are inherently distrustful. It is more difficult to fill workers’ TRUST buckets if you’re an extension of a system that doesn’t trust them. “Sure,” your workers may say, “I’ll trust you… just as soon as you get the company to stop random drug testing, monitoring our e-mails, and making us submit time reports.”

 

Chapter 9 TELL Courage

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I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.

Harry S. Truman

Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of “crackpot” than the stigma of conformity.

Thomas J. Watson

“Your opinion matters to us, really.”

“We want your input as we move forward.”

“These changes will impact you, so please tell us what you think.”

For all the talk about wanting people to be open and honest, the reality is that many organizations stifle (or punish) such behavior. If this weren’t the case, surely more people would have spoken up sooner about the breathtaking misdeeds at companies like Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, Cendant, Dynegy, ImClone, Vivendi Universal, Waste Management, Global Crossing, and Tyco. It’s important to remember that most organizations are not democracies. 144 The average employee does not get to vote on which senior management decisions he or she will endorse. As one-party systems, most organizations more closely resemble authoritarian regimes than they do free and open societies. Employees aren’t “citizens,” and the ability to influence companywide decisions is restricted to those in the upper echelons. So regardless of how open a company considers itself to be, the risks of voicing an opinion that runs counter to the directives of the senior team are so high that most employees keep quiet. In the case of TELL Courage, the risk is that in voicing your true opinion, you’ll be set aside as an outcast from the established social order. The risk that comes with TELL Courage is the risk of social banishment.

 

Chapter 10 The Courageous Choice

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An executive is a person who always decides; sometimes he decides correctly, but he always decides.

John H. Patterson

All of the chapters thus far have led to one fundamental question: Will courage go to work with you or not? Your answer will have a huge impact on the performance of your people as well as on your own well-being as a manager. The stakes, in short, are high. Thus, before you answer, please consider, by reading these contrasting views, the outcomes that your choice is likely to produce.

The first version of the story illustrates what the workplace looks and acts like when courage is lacking.

Bzzzzzt.

“Crap. Does this BlackBerry ever sleep? It’s 6:30 a.m., for God’s sake.” You keep one hand on the steering wheel as you reach for your gadget holster. It’s your boss.

“Heads up. Tanker is hunting for you. He’s PO’d. Nobody on your team submitted their time reports again.”

You swallow your last mouthful of latte, thinking to yourself, “Stan Tanker is an ass.” Steering the car with your knees, you type, “Thx for the hds up. I’ll get on them.”

 

Chapter 11 Courageous Living

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I shall not fear anyone on Earth.

Mahatma Gandhi, nonviolent revolutionary

Be Courageous!

Bill Treasurer, high-diving, Speedo-wearing, fear-carrying courage consultant

“You have cancer.”

Few words fill the brain with as much unsettling confusion as cancer. Pretty much everything my doctor said after that was a jumble. “Positive biopsy… tumors… unusual for your age … radical surgery…”

One comment did get through, however: “If you don’t treat this, you will die.”

There are advantages to running a courage-building company. Courage is an attractive subject, and it certainly has attracted some marquee clients to Giant Leap. Conversations become electrified when they turn to the subject of courage. It is a subject that pulls people forward and upward, 184 elevating them to higher ideals and standards. But there are disadvantages to running a courage-building company, too. Courage is a subject with considerable mass and gravity. My proximity to the subject seems to have attracted an unusually large number of challenging life experiences. I sometimes wonder if, when God found out I was going to devote my life to helping others to be more courageous, he thought, “Is that so? Then I guess Mr. Treasurer is going to need some lessons in that area. Angels, start the conveyor belt!”

 

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