Creating a Courageous Workforce

Who wins in a courageous workforce? Everyone. With less fear and more courage, workers take on harder projects, deal better with change, and start speaking up on important issues.

Try. Trust. Tell. How to build the three types of courage in your workers

Who wins in a courageous workforce? Everyone. With less fear and more courage, workers take on harder projects, deal better with change, and start speaking up on important issues. The company and the boss benefit and, in boosting their own performance, employees do, too. Building this winning workforce, however, requires both will and skill. Managers must understand three specific types of courage—try courage, trust courage, and tell courage—and learn how to develop them in workers. A guide to getting started:

8Try courage

Want people to step up to the plate? Try courage—the courage of initiative and action—is the answer. With try courage, employees have the guts to take the lead and do something new—even attempt a “first.” They welcome challenges, stretch their skills, and make things happen—all with little or no hand-holding.

To help workers develop try courage:

  • Emphasize the risks of not risking. The risk of inaction is usually more perilous than the risk of action. When assigning tough tasks, emphasize the dangers of not taking the risk, including a potential hit to employees’ personal and career development or, worst-case scenario, their job security.

  • Play to their strengths. Build on employees’ existing strengths and capabilities when giving them a risky new task or project. It’s easier to be courageous with even a little experience on a big task.

  • Give them something to prove. Provide challenges that cause people to prove themselves to themselves. When the going gets rough, having something to prove can be a source of energy and motivation.

Managers must understand three specific types of courage—“try” courage, “trust” courage, and “tell” courage—and learn how to develop them in workers.

8Trust courage

Want people to give others the benefit of the doubt? Trust courage—the courage of confidence in others—is the answer. With trust courage, employees let go of their need to control situations or outcomes and, instead, put their faith in those around them. They are open to direction and change, and don’t waste time questioning motives or looking for hidden agendas. To help workers develop trust courage:

  • Trust first. Resist the temptation to turn trust into a quid pro quo—I will give you trust after you give me trust—and end up producing a stalemate in which nobody trusts anyone. Trust first—period.
  • Build “instant trust.” With the right conditions, trust can be gained surprisingly quickly. Create a trusting environment by establishing ground rules with employees on issues such as keeping confidences, respecting others, and fostering true professionalism.
  • Know the criteria. Get to know people—who they are and what they value—And find out the criteria by which they give their trust. Ask each person on your team to complete the statement: I will trust you when…

8Tell courage

Want people to speak their minds? Tell courage—the courage of voice—is the answer. With tell courage, employees engage others with candor and conviction. They raise difficult issues, provide tough feedback, and share unpopular opinions. To help workers develop tell courage:

  • Encourage precision. To be most effective, tell courage requires thought and precision. Ask workers to know—in exact terms—what they want to say and what they hope to achieve.
  • Take action. Employees get frustrated—rightfully so—when they muster up the courage to speak up, only to have it fall on deaf ears. Respect and reinforce tell courage by taking swift and sure action on what people say.
  • Be careful what you wish for. As a manager, you may think you want workers to have more tell courage. But when they start speaking out, you may think otherwise. Commit yourself to listening to what people have to say—no matter how hard it is to hear—and refrain from responding rashly or defensively. Have the courage to be told to!

Copyright 2008 Bill Treasurer. All rights reserved.

Bill Treasurer is author of Courage Goes to Work (Berrett-Koehler, October 2008, $26.95).

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