Developing courage in uncertain times

Developing courage in uncertain times

31 October 2021 By Stuart Taylor
Stuart Taylor

Leading with courage in the face of fear and uncertainty is an enviable skill, but as any courageous leader will tell you, it’s one best learned through practice, writes Stuart Taylor.

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”, espoused Winston Churchill.

Since the emergence of COVID-19, many businesses and leaders will have adapted conversations around how to achieve high performance. While some organisations will continue to perform at peak, many businesses will have found that despite best efforts from leaders, morale has been eroded, and flow – a state of being “in the zone” – has become significantly harder to achieve. 

Under ongoing stress, change and uncertainty, many organisations will have seen a drop in performance, engagement and creativity. This is often compounded by an increased risk-aversion which, as a result, typically means a diminished appetite for innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.

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This is why now more than ever, leaders must model and openly discuss the need for courage. Enacting courage will help organisations move past feelings of fear and uncertainty and reclaim productivity, job satisfaction and innovation.

What does courage in the workplace look like?

The Cambridge dictionary defines courage as “the ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation”. It requires self-confidence and resolve. It’s about truth-telling, delivering hard messages, sharing vulnerabilities, and embracing the unknowns. Courageous action is enabled by the belief that things will be OK despite fear and that moving through the fear is possible to achieve a desired outcome. It’s driven by positive thinking that is focused on the present and not on the long-term future. 

Courage may be drawn on before presenting a new idea to a group, in suggesting an alternate solution, in committing to paying employees during periods of low revenue, or in proposing changes to business structures. It’s about going against the grain, doing the unexpected and often the unpopular. To do this requires an openness to failure or challenge. Courageous leaders are willing and able to embrace the fear of failure, setting their ego aside in the pursuit of growth. They also inherently know that they can rise to the challenge ahead and weather the outcome regardless of whether or not it is in their favour.  

How can we enact courage in the face of fear and discomfort?

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Like resilience, courage can be practised and strengthened by repeatedly performing simple tasks that at first felt hard. With repetition, these tasks slowly become easier. However, there are some very simple ways to address fear and enact courage whether you’re leading an organisation or you’re an employee about to put yourself on the line.

  1.   When in doubt, breathe out

Breathing is a physical way to bring yourself back to the present when you’re worrying about the future. In moments when you need to enact courage, conscious breathing will help you regain focus on the goal and tune out anxieties and what-ifs. When fear kicks in, use real-time relaxation in the form of deep breathing to recover and refocus.

  1.   Release the ego

Focusing solely on the challenge and ignoring the possible outcome will help to stem the voice in your head that predicts your failure. Ignoring your ego and the perceived judgment of others will help you tap into the courage you require to move forward.

  1.   Reframe your thinking

Bringing your thoughts in line with the key goals of the task at hand will help you stay out of negative thinking traps. A positive outlook and positive affirmations will help you move through fear and find courage to act.

  1.   Regulate your emotions

Fear and panic are usually destructive emotions that can inhibit us from moving forward. Enact courage and minimise negative emotions by consciously invoking a sense of equanimity. Equanimity is the emotion of calmness and composure and is the antidote to fear and panic. A sense of equanimity will steer you through complex and uncertain situations and better enable you to tap into courage.

  1.   Seek out coaching

Do you know someone who has already mastered the challenge you’re grappling with? If so, reach out to them to get their support. Find out how they moved through the task and what they do when they need to stimulate courage to take the next step.

Looking ahead

Courage enables us to take risks, to try new things, to hold our ground, and to stand up for what we believe to be right, true or best. Leading with courage in the face of fear and uncertainty is an enviable skill, but as any courageous leader will tell you, it’s one best learned through practice.

It’s important to remember, however, that courage requires resilience. Resilience provides the wherewithal to take the leap and invoke courage. Resilience also allows us to survive the fall and to move forward with greater wisdom and tenacity than we had before. Therefore, leaders and their teams must prioritise building not only courage but also resilience to ensure they’re well-equipped to navigate and thrive in the workforce of today.

Stuart Taylor is the founder and CEO of Springfox.

Developing courage in uncertain times
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