Your Opportunities for Action

If you’re ready to start practicing competent courage, the obvious question is, “What actions should I take?” To help you think through your options, read below about the most commonly described types of workplace courage behavior.

Truth to Power actions

More than half of all the stories about workplace courage involve some form of “truth to power.” No matter how noble or legitimate the purpose, angering those above yourself in a hierarchy often exposes you to potential career and other risks. That’s why challenging, confronting, defying, and in other ways making oneself vulnerable to those with more formal power are so frequently described as courageous.

FOR EXAMPLE

Zak was told to change results to put his boss in a better light when an internal assessment revealed that their team was under-performing. He challenged the ethics of manipulating the data, and respectfully pointed out that leaving the low score unchanged could be used as a galvanizing force for change.

Diego felt it was unfair that corporate employees had flexible work hours, educational opportunities, and other perks that those away from headquarters didn’t. He arranged a meeting with the CEO, at which he laid out the facts and his conclusion that benefits should be extended equally to all.

Jess was offended when her boss used a derogatory term about a colleague’s sexual orientation. Upset that neither she nor anyone else had spoken up in real time, she approached her boss the next day and explained why that language was not acceptable to her personally and also problematic for the company.

What about you?
Do you:
  • want to push back on an operating policy or strategic objective?
  • need to confront your boss about disrespectful, hurtful, or illegal behavior?
  • need to share difficult news with a skip-level leader?
  • want to say no to a problematic order or expectation?

Then it’s time for you to take the WCAI!

take the wcai now!

To further stimulate your thinking about the kinds of truth to power actions you might put on your courage action ladder, take the free Workplace Courage Acts Index (WCAI). When you finish, you’ll get a printout of your results compared to every other person who has taken the WCAI.

get started now!

Challenges involving Peers and Subordinates

Confronting peers and subordinates can be surprisingly difficult. They don’t generally have the same level of career influence as bosses do, but they can certainly isolate you socially, make you doubt yourself psychologically, and even put you at physical risk on occasion. That’s why many workplace acts described as courageous involve difficult conversations or other challenging acts with co-workers of equal or lesser formal power.

FOR EXAMPLE

Raina was frustrated when her colleague once again failed to prepare for an important meeting. She told her peer in direct terms that she found this behavior disrespectful and an unacceptable risk to the project’s outcomes.

Abe had a peer in another function who repeatedly got away with treating teammates poorly because he was a technical star. When this peer once again started yelling during a cross-functional meeting, Abe confronted him in front of everyone, telling him that no level of individual performance justified abusive interpersonal behavior.

Liz inherited a very weak sales associate when she took over a new team at a company where holding people accountable was “nearly unprecedented.” Nonetheless, she demoted the associate one level, and when performance still didn’t improve, let the associate go.

What about you?
Do you:
  • want to confront peers about their inadequate work or disrespectful behavior?
  • need to share bad or hard-to-hear news with a peer?
  • need to provide negative formal or informal feedback with a subordinate?
  • want to disagree with widely shared beliefs or behaviors among your subordinates?

Then it’s time for you to take the WCAI!

take the wcai now!

To further stimulate your thinking about the kinds of situations involving peers and subordinates that you might put on your courage action ladder, take the free Workplace Courage Acts Index (WCAI). When you finish, you’ll get a printout of your results compared to every other person who has taken the WCAI.

get started now!

Principled Engagements with Other Stakeholders

Most external stakeholders – be they your customers or clients, or your suppliers or contractors – don’t have formal power over you. But they can still create ugly confrontations, challenge your psychological mettle, or otherwise cause you trouble for standing up to or walking away from them. That’s why upwards of 75% of people surveyed say decisions or confrontations involving these groups can be courageous, and why they also say they’re avoided a whole lot of the time.

FOR EXAMPLE

Janet handled a call from an irate customer hurling insults at the work crew the customer claimed had failed to fulfill a contract. After looking into the matter, she calmly told the important customer that the claims were unfounded and that if they were to continue working together the insulting language needed to stop.

Alana was working as consultant on a negotiation between a distressed company and a bank for whom she did frequent work. When the bank tried to strong-arm the company into terms that Alana thought were unethical, Alana told the bank she would have to sever their long-standing relationship if they did not deal in better faith.

What about you?
Do you:
  • want to confront a customer or client who is behaving unprofessionally?
  • need to make a decision that might anger customers or clients?
  • need to engage in a difficult conversation with an external partner or stakeholder?

Then it’s time for you to take the WCAI!

take the wcai now!

To further stimulate your thinking about difficult engagements with important stakeholders that you might put on your courage action ladder, take the free Workplace Courage Acts Index (WCAI). When you finish, you’ll get a printout of your results compared to every other person who has taken the WCAI.

get started now!

Bold Personal Actions

Creating opportunities for growth – whether for ourselves or for others – often entails social and psychological risk. It’s hard to voluntarily do things that could leave others thinking we’re weak, overly-emotional, or perhaps just plain incompetent. That’s why stretch behaviors – whether they be owning more responsibility or new tasks in a current role, or starting a new job or a new venture, are often seen as examples of workplace courage.

FOR EXAMPLE

Jake had worked his entire career in technical functional jobs at the Midwest HQ of his firm. Though he was well-respected and comfortable, he agreed to move to Asia and take on his first general manager role as a country head.

Melissa wanted her company to shift significant resources from print to social media forms of advertising. To gain approval, she agreed to lead the new social media team and be held accountable for the results.

Tim had been trying unsuccessfully for two years to get his company to pursue his idea for a new line of business. After consultation with his family, he quit his job and started a new venture dedicated to commercializing his concept.

What about you?
Do you:
  • want to try a stretch assignment in your current organization?
  • want to own a bold change in strategy in your current organization?
  • want to take a new job in a different industry or location?
  • want to create your own business?

Then it’s time for you to take the WCAI!

take the wcai now!

To further stimulate your thinking about the kinds of bold actions that foster growth and innovation that you might put on your courage action ladder, take the free Workplace Courage Acts Index (WCAI). When you finish, you’ll get a printout of your results compared to every other person who has taken the WCAI.

get started now!

Build your own ladder now!

If you’re ready to get started, you have to choose particular actions to take, and decide what order to take them in. Whether you’ve used the WCAI, chosen from the lists of behaviors in this section, or used any other method to choose some courage opportunities, simply order them from easiest to hardest for you and then start with the easiest. Here’s a courage ladder you can use as a visual guide. In addition to using the steps suggested in the courage ladder guide below, I recommend reading Choosing Courage for extensive additional advice on the skills you’ll want to practice to successfully climb your ladder. Good luck!

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