Courage is defined as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” (Dictionary.com)
To have courage in conversations means that you perceive that there is a threat if you say something to this other person or people and you do it regardless. Having courage to show up in your relationships as you want to be takes awareness, intention, and commitment. It includes taking a risk that renders you vulnerable to being ignored, humiliated, or rejected. It implies that you believe you can cope with whatever reactions or responses you receive.
In the Rewire Leadership approach, it also means that you behave in a self-responsible and authentic (rather than defensive) manner. Self-awareness and reactivity management are key if you want your courageousness to pay off.
We left Sally as she was struggling with whether or not to tell Tom the truth about why she was leaving the organization. Because Tom was showing so much care, it was making it even harder for Sally to stay with her plan—to stay with the story that her daughter, Carolyn, needed her.
Sally looks up at Tom to see if he means what he says—that he really does want to hear about her experience. She looks down, then looks up again. After several minutes, finally, sally gets the courage to speak. Looking down, almost inaudibly, Sally starts talking.
“I was looking forward to working here. Alex loves it and thought I would too. When I got here, everyone seemed very nice. Then it all went downhill. No one cared about what I had done in my prior jobs. It was as if my prior experience was wiped out. I have always been a top performer. You probably don't believe that but everywhere I've been, I've gotten results—really good results. Here, no one cared. Here, I was a fish out of water. People showed no respect for me. My direct reports treated me as if I were their friend, not their boss. I'm not used to that. I don't think they should act like that. And they have so much fun. I don't think they're working hard enough. And they didn't give me what I needed before I did presentations. I really think they wanted me to look bad. It just isn't working out. They aren't happy. And when I can't perform, I'm not happy either. I can't do what I am here to do.” By this time, Sally's voice is louder and she is shaking her head back and forth almost constantly.
Tom, looking her in the eyes, speaks softly, “Sally, it sounds horrible. I can understand why you would want to leave. I think it is quite courageous of you to tell me all of this. I appreciate it.”
Sally starts crying softly, then a bit louder. “I don't know what has gotten into me. I have never cried at work before. I am so embarrassed. I really don't understand what's happening but I know I don't like it.”
“I can understand how strange it seems here,” Tom continues. “Most organizations are much more formal and people don't have so much fun together. Your team really enjoys each other which makes their work more fun. Knowing them as I do, I doubt that they were intentionally attempting to undermine you, though I understand that it seems like that to you. My guess is that there were some misunderstandings, that they didn't know you wanted certain things, or the like. I could speak to each point you made but I think what is most important is that you are so unhappy and don't feel valued here. I am truly sorry for any ways that I contributed to that. And what I am curious about, is there anything that I can do to support you to stay for a while, to take some of our leadership courses, and to help you learn about our culture?”
“You think this is my fault, don't you?” Sally's eyes get wide. “You sound just like Alex. He said the same thing. Why would you think that some leadership course is going to help me at this point in my career? Don't you know that I've been in a dozen leadership courses? I could probably give them myself and it would be a lot more beneficial. I can't believe I told you all this and you're blaming me! I should have kept my mouth shut. What an idiot I am to trust you.”
Tom sits quietly as Sally spews. Her eyes are shooting daggers at him. When she is finished, Tom responds, “Sally, it is not my intention to blame you. I would like to tell you what my intention is if you're willing to listen.”
While Sally contemplates this, let's look in on Donna, who was just called on in a meeting and admitted to being lost in a moment of gratitude and admiration. She asked that the question be repeated.
Donna listens to Sayaka this time, takes a moment to think through her response, and then talks about some of the research she has been reading about millennials and Gen-Xers. Donna summarizes the research and says emphatically, “I know the trends are toward virtual teams and that HQ wants us to focus on this. However, my experience here shows me how important it is for teams to have contact with each other in person. I have never seen such synergy and collaboration. I, for one, cannot imagine how we would keep this spirit if we were virtual.”
Heads nod in agreement. Sayaka asks the others to respond to Donna's point. A lively discussion ensues. Lorin reminds the team that her boss asked for specific ideas related to the workforce of 2035, virtual teams, and teleworking.
People shake their head and ask Lorin, “What if we push back and say that there are certain teams that have to be co-located and work together in person—at least most of them should be together?”
Lorin and the team discuss what it means to push back to HQ. They agree to put together a presentation that makes a good story for having certain teams stay together. Donna volunteers to be the point person for the ad hoc team that will work on the presentation.
Once they've come to an agreement about when they'll work on it, when Lorin needs it, how the others will give input, etc., the meeting breaks up and they all start chatting about various projects as well as vacation plans.
It is clear that Sally is courageous in telling Tom the truth about her experience. However, she quickly resorts to her tried and true survival strategy: blame and criticism. Not receiving the kind of response she hopes for, she has no capacity to self-soothe and immediately closes down and lobs grenades.
Donna, on the other hand, stays true to form. It may not have been courageous of her to tell the folks on her team that she was lost in reverie, thinking about how appreciative she is to be in this company and on this team. She knows them and trusts that they will understand. However, it probably did take some courage to take a position that she knows is radically different than headquarters wants from the team.
As we focus this month on being courageous in conversations, please do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Being courageous includes being self-aware, self-compassionate, compassionate towards others, speaking self-responsibly, and listening deeply. Many people think that being authentic or courageous means taking liberty to dump your defenses on others. This could not be further from the truth in the Rewire Leadership model.
Onward with courage and awareness—of self and other.Back to top