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How to inspire courage in your people

Leaders should create a culture where employees have the courage to try new things, and learn from their inevitable failures.

4 min read



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“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” – Nelson Mandela


We know that success in business comes from making bold moves, from assessing a market or a situation and having the courage to take a risk. How do you go about defining courage for your employees? Do you create an environment where overcoming the fear of failure, and breaking out of established patterns in pursuit of greatness is rewarded? Listed below are strategies you can take to inspire the kind of boldness you want to see in your workplace. 

1. Emphasize the Value of Being Courageous

Frequently remind your employees of the value of being courageous. Highlight the examples from history where leaders overcame fear and achieved great things. Be clear that you are not defining courage as recklessness or brash behavior, but rather the calculated will to persevere and withstand fear and difficulty. Taking risks can feel counterintuitive to many, so your people need to know you value courage above perfection.

2. Model Boldness

Practice making courage a defining characteristic of  your own work. Share examples of enacting riskier strategies that helped you achieve results. Don’t be afraid to share the setbacks you experienced in the pursuit of challenging goals. Transparency and honesty about temporary failures on the road to success demonstrates an authentic commitment to courage in the workplace. What better way to prove you embrace boldness than to be frank about your own mistakes? Your team will also benefit from hearing how you felt in the moments when your courage paid off.

3. Start Asking Better Questions

When you’re meeting with someone one-on-one, take time to review previous decisions and discuss missed chances to have courage and take risks in the pursuit of more ambitious goals. To avoid it, will simply be a conversation of disappointment and regret. Instead, keep the open-ended dialogue flowing. Ask thought-provoking questions like: 

  • “What would you have done if you weren’t concerned about negative impact?”
  • “What stopped you from trying something bolder?”
  • “What could have happened if you’d tried that idea and it didn’t work? Could we manage those consequences? How bad would it have been?”

4. Give In-the-Moment Feedback

Don’t wait for those one-on-one sessions to talk about redefining courage. Use routine meetings and decisions to give immediate feedback and talk about how more risk could have served the situation well, and how it could have paid off. This will have a twofold effect. First, in-the-moment feedback provides the opportunity for smaller course corrections, rather than a big change in decision making later down the road. Second, keeping the conversation about courage front of mind gives your team the motivation to keep practicing and build boldness into their everyday. Regular encouragement to be courageous helps build the habit of courage at work and lessens fear in the face of challenge.

5. Reframe Mistakes

One of the big buzzwords in business research these days is “psychological safety,” which is the act of creating a workplace where the team feels emboldened to experiment, question assumptions and sometimes fail in the pursuit of excellence. Ensure your employees understand that striving for challenging goals creates opportunity for unprecedented success. Failure is sometimes inevitable, especially when you’re trying to achieve something great. Create an environment where everyone feels inspired to attempt bold things, with the understanding that even mistakes are an opportunity to learn and be more successful in the next attempt.

As a group, you’ll become more innovative and productive as you unleash your people’s courage. You may also even tap a new source of courage for yourself. Model how to embody boldness through the action steps outlined in above, and you’ll embolden your entire team.

As an executive coach, Joel Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S. He provides executive coaching to help companies build a pipeline of leaders who can excel at the management level. Joel is the author of 11 books, including “Executive Presence: Step Into Your Power, Convey Confidence, & Lead With Conviction.” Subscribe to his Fulfillment at Work Newsletter which is delivered to over 10,000 people. You can view his video library of over 200+ easily actionable 2-minute inspirational video clips by subscribing to his YouTube Channel.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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