It takes courage to lead with values

Courage to do what is right seems to be in short supply, but is more critical than ever today. Consider University leaders who invite world-renowned commencement speakers and then deny them a voice based upon the protest of a vocal minority — instead of standing up to the noise. Consider the prevalence of politicians who now put convictions and facts aside in response to poll numbers and donor requirements. Consider a culture of fear-based silence, where people know something is wrong, but don’t speak up.

Our world is getting more complex and uncertain, producing prevalent and ongoing fear in organizations. Out of fear, people ask: “How can we maintain our standing, our positions and the status quo?” instead of asking: “How can we do the right thing for our constituents, customers, members, employees and society?” It takes courage to do the right thing in the face of fear. Courage makes change possible, and in today’s uncertain business climate, every organization must be willing to change just to survive. Entrepreneurship, innovation and risk-taking are needed and they result from taking courageous action.

Are there fear-based aspects of your culture that are keeping your organization from reaching its potential?   Assess the situation by asking questions such as: Is our structure hierarchical, with orders emanating top down based on fear? Linear communication doesn’t work anymore in the world of multifaceted webs of systems and connections. Are protecting the status quo and conformity respected? Are new ideas resisted and risk taking stifled? Are there political barriers to smart hiring? Are managers told what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear? Are appraisals top down with no opportunity for upward and lateral feedback? Is bad behavior allowed to persist and not confronted? Are blaming and finger pointing the norm, instead of taking responsibility for actions and results? Most importantly, does the culture exhibit a lack of alignment around values? Values may be on the organization’s website, but may not serve to guide daily behavior and strategic decision-making.

How can leaders make courage the norm and replace a culture of fear? Leaders must ensure that values and expected behaviors are specifically defined, reinforced and present in the leadership and culture of the organization. In a culture of courage, leaders are wary of “all good news”, making certain that issues are brought to light in a timely and proactive manner. Ignoring a problem is much worse than addressing it early and aggressively. They listen to learn from both peers and subordinates — seeking data that leads to knowledge that aids in decision-making. When employees are afraid to engage in spirited discourse and are afraid of what management might think, leaders must encourage a robust healthy debate and demonstrate how respectful open discourse is needed for optimal decision-making.

It takes courage to challenge conventional wisdom, to go beyond industry boundaries and to see new possibilities. Talented people must take risks in order to nourish innovation. Leaders insist on accountability and taking personal responsibility, while creating a safe space for mistakes. Instead of assigning blame for failures, leaders seek to minimize the cost of failure, allowing for failure that instructs the organization.

Courage doesn’t imply absence of fear. Heroes act despite their fear of the unknown. Leaders face the consequences of their actions and are not afraid of negative reactions. They take the time and financial resources to fix a critical problem that will cause major negative consequences in the long term. In the workplace, living by organizational values takes courage, and courageous adherence to values guides the organization through these uncertain and complex times.

Stuart R. Levine

Stuart R. Levine

Founded in 1996, Stuart Levine & Associates LLC is an international strategic planning and leadership development company with focus on adding member value by strengthening corporate culture. SL&A ... Web: Details