Practicing Courage

I talk quite a bit about little league baseball in my blogs and in my coaching, equating the work and practice that 10, 11, and 12-year-olds put in to learn good habits and commit them to muscle memory with the work that business owners and leaders need to put in to build their own good habits and practices. Leadership takes practice. Efficiency, focus, and effective time management take practice. Goal-setting and building plans take practice. Repeating a strong sales process takes practice. These things don’t just happen; they need to be worked on, repeated, rehearsed. I’ve never considered courage as something that can be put in that same category. We’ve all heard the term “practicing courage;” to me, it always meant putting courage into action, but a fantastic book I am reading right now has me rethinking that idea— courage can, quite literally, be practiced.

In their book The Power of Moments, authors Chip and Dan Heath explain how and why moments matter, and how positive, memorable moments in work environments can benefit teams, employees, and customers. They talk about Peak moments— moments of elevation, pride, insight and connection— and how leaders and organizations can recognize, highlight, and in some cases even manufacture those moments. Moments of pride, say Chip and Dan, can occur, in part, when someone displays courage, when they “. . . . stand up for someone, hold firm and take the heat, make a stand that they believe in, refuse to cave.” The difficulty with this type of moment is that it cannot be created. While we can create moments of recognition (a word of congratulations to an employee for a task well-done, celebrating a big win or milestone for someone), moments that require courage and that could create pride when that courage is displayed oftentimes just happen. They cannot be manufactured. . . . but they can be prepared for and practiced.

Our children regularly have fire drills, tornado drills, and lockdown drills at school. These exercises give kids (and faculty) the chance to “practice” being calm and orderly in a time of crisis. They are quite literally practicing being courageous so that they know what to do when a moment requiring courage occurs. They have rehearsed their response and committed it to muscle memory. Why can’t this be a regular practice in the workplace as well? Think of the times when employees need to demonstrate courage in the workplace; dealing with an unruly customer or a theft situation in a retail store, witnessing or experiencing firsthand bullying or harassment in the office, saying no to a good client who is demanding too many concessions, firing or disciplining an employee. These are all situations that occur regularly, yet how do we prepare our people to deal with them? Certainly, we “train” for them, but do we ever “practice” them? No one likes role plays. Why not? Because they are uncomfortable, and that is precisely the point. Role-playing an uncomfortable situation allows us to practice our response so that when the actual time comes we are prepared to respond; we can “display” courage in the moment because we have “practiced” courage in the past.

Mark Twain said that “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear— not the absence of fear.” Mastery takes practice, rehearsal, repetition. What does that practice look like in your organization? Where are the opportunities for you and your team to "practice" courage? What are the role-playing scenarios that your employees should rehearse so they are prepared when the actual moment occurs? How do you build that practice into your training, coaching, evaluations? Put your organization's values and ethics into action, prepare your people for stressful situations, then evaluate, talk, and do it again. Practice courage just like you would practice anything else, to make sure you and your people are ready to act courageously when the time comes.

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