Professional Courage

Diving board 2 from Claire Gillman
“Diving board 2” by Claire Gillman is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original

I’ve been thinking about the roles we play as professionals and leaders. A big part of our job is to make decisions on courses of action to address problems or opportunities facing our teams or our organization. Those decisions are often met with resistance, doubt, disagreement, or even outright hostility. In those situations, we’re faced with a choice: cave to the pressure and fall back to the relative safety of our status quo, or press on in the face of opposition. What makes it even harder to choose to press on is the knowledge that our decision might not be the right one. We don’t have a magic crystal ball to predict the future perfectly. As convinced as we are sometimes about our decisions, we have to admit things might not go as planned. We might fail, which could have consequences that won’t feel good.

The choice to cave is certainly less risky and more comfortable. After all, you’re going with the going crowd. There’s safety in that. But being safe doesn’t make you, your teams, or your organization better — and that is what is expected of us as professionals and leaders. Getting better — and making a difference — requires risk-taking and discomfort. We’ve all heard the cliché “no pain, no gain” in the gym. That same philosophy applies to our jobs, too.

As leaders, we must take risks. Taking risks requires courage.

I love using quotes from famous people because they are memorable and lend significance to the point I’m trying to make. On the topic of displaying professional courage, a quote from Teddy Roosevelt captures it superbly.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
— Teddy Roosevelt (April 23, 1910)

Take risks. You might fail while daring greatly. You might also know the triumph of high achievement. Whatever the outcome, be the person — the leader — in the arena who gets the credit for showing courage.

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