How do we become more courageous?
“We need to be more courageous.” These words could have been expressed by any group or individual, at any place and at any time. In this instance, it was last week at the heart of a sustainable business discussion on innovation.
Indeed, who doesn’t want to be a little – or a lot – more courageous in their working or personal life?
When we talk about leadership action, courage is pinpointed at the moment between deciding and acting. Have we got the courage to step up into this leadership vacuum? To put our heads above the parapet? To say the unspoken and to go against the status quo in order to change things for the better?
What does it take for us to do that?
The word ‘courage’ comes from the Latin root ‘cor’, meaning heart – which is where courage comes from. Therefore, more often than not, when we are seeking courage we first have to turn to its opposite: vulnerability. As researcher and storyteller Brene Brown says: “I can tell you as a researcher – 11,000 pieces of data – I cannot find a single example of courage, moral courage, spiritual courage, leadership courage, relational courage, I cannot find a single example of courage that was not born completely of vulnerability.”
But most of the time, we create elaborate strategies to defend against our vulnerability – to keep us strong or to give the impression that we are so. We wear our masks and use our words and learned behaviours to protect ourselves and our heart from exposure. In her 2010 TED talk, Brown talks about how we numb our emotions, try and make the uncertain certain and put our energy into perfecting and pretending, all of which close us off from really connecting. She offers another way: to let ourselves be seen, to love with our whole hearts, to practice gratitude and joy, and to believe we are enough.
When we expose and engage our undefended heart, as Elle Harrison writes in Wild Courage, we honour our wildness and open ourselves up to: a renewed sense of energy, power and safety; trust and integrity in our relationships; greater compassion and generosity as leaders; and the ability to acknowledge our – often destructive – impact on the planet and to seek out new, sustainable ways of living and working.
Listening to our heart, we nurture and build its confidence. Courage is not about being fearless; it is about going into the unknown in spite of those fears. You may find yourself putting your hand on your heart, thanking those fears for keeping you safe, and whispering to them, “but I am going to do it anyway”.
Brown, B. 2010. The Power of Vulnerability. TED talk. [Online]. Available from: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html
Brown, B. 2012. The Courage to Be Vulnerable. [Online]. Available from: https://onbeing.org/programs/brene-brown-the-courage-to-be-vulnerable-jan2015/
Harrison, E. 2011. Wild Courage: A Journey of Transformation for You and Your Business. UK: Watkins Publishing. Chapter 5, pp: 107-132.
Penelope Mavor is an Impact Associate.