Courage is not the absence of fear,
but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.
Fear at work. The thought is terrible. Ridiculous. Yet ” Common.
More than anything else, in all my work experience and all my coaching, the single biggest deterrent I’ve found within stagnant organizations is fear. It rears its ugly head in many manifestations: fear of repercussion or retaliation, fear of change and the unconventional, fear of failure, fear of ___________ —we’re all able to fill in the blank and add to the list. If we’re honest, each of us will admit we’ve felt some kind of fear ourselves while on the job.
So this correlation between fear and courage intrigued me:
“One thing we can claim with complete confidence is that fear is indispensable to courage, that it must always be present for courage to exist. You must be afraid to have courage. Suffering is not, by itself, courage; choosing to suffer what we fear is. And yet, too great a distinction is made between moral courage and physical courage. They are in many instances the same. For either to be authentic, it must encounter fear and prove itself superior to that fear. By fear, I mean the kind that entails serious harm to ourselves, physical or otherwise, the kind that wars with our need to take action but which we overcome because we value something or someone more than our own well-being. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.” —U.S. Senator John McCain, author of Why Courage Matters. This Excerpt from In Search of Courage.
Rarely in business is there the fear McCain calls “the kind that entails serious physical harm to ourselves.” Yet it can be no less insidious.
Managers must always seek to banish fear in their organizations; it remains a damaging thing, and an unfortunate barrier to gaining improvement. As a manager, we must always work on ourselves, so we may be sure we’re not the ones guilty of instilling fear in others. For instance, there’s a fine line between assertiveness and intimidation. If you intimidate someone, especially someone who reports to you, they fear you, and they will never believe you manage them with good intent.
However McCain’s assertion has given me another view, another hope. If fear indeed is present, perhaps some greater good can come from it: it can be the stimulus to acts of empowering courage in spite of one’s fears. When we feel empowered we are transformed, and our performance shows it. As managers this gives us a new strategy; we can look past the fear for that “something” that is more important so that courage can emerge. Fear is not ignored; it is harnessed and overcome.
Author’s Note: This is the second article on our Ho‘ohana theme this month on the Hawaiian Value of Koa, Courage. Click on the Monthly Ho‘ohana category in the footer below for the entire discussion.