Buck Up Buttercup! It’s time to focus on organizational courage

October 15th, 2012

We’ve seen a spike in requests for conflict resolution, difficult conversations and conflict facilitation services over the past six months. Recent research by CPP and CIPD shows:

· Workplace conflicts tend to escalate during tough economic times (and cost billions of dollars as a consequence).

· 85% of all employees experience some degree of conflict; they spend an average of 2.8 hours per week dealing with it.

· The most significant causes of conflict: Personality clashes and warring egos, stress, and workload.

· In the US, 67% of employees report being trained on how to deal with conflict. But only 22% of employees and 31% of managers believe they handle conflict well.

What the heck is going on?

The information above mirrors what happens with feedback as well. “How to give and receive feedback” is a learning objective on countless developmental agendas, yet a surprising number of people report being unable, unwilling or too uncomfortable to do it. The same holds true with conflict. “How to” doesn’t help when the “willing to” is missing.

What’s missing is courage.

Courage: the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, pain, etc.
(as defined by

Courage comes from within—but must be supported from without. People are shaped by the leaders with whom they work and the environments in which they work. They learn quickly – if, when and how to stick their necks out—and the consequences if done so inappropriately.

Some tips for promoting a courageous culture

1. Check your purpose and goals to ensure they truly stretch. Safe goals send the message “proceed with caution vs. courage.”

2. Ensure you and others are ready from a trust perspective. Without trust, it’s difficult to risk. A good way to assess the level of trust: Ask people what you do that communicates that people should play it safe. If you get superficial, hesitant or tenuous responses, that alone is an indication that you have some work to do around building a culture of courage. If you get deep, thoughtful answers along with suggestions for how you might lead differently, you are on the right track. And, in either case, it is an act of courage to tell people what you’ve learned and act on it in the most daring way possible.

3. Check your communication. In what ways do you communicate to people to hold back, focus only on “calculated” or “reasonable” risks, or otherwise not be too daring or brave? Replace those messages with a compelling reason for stepping up, out or into the fray. Example: Our goals are super stretch at a time when our staff is very lean. It’s an opportunity for each of us to dare to radically revamp inefficient processes, courageously break down barriers that hinder the work, and truly challenge the status quo. If I, or anybody, threatens your capacity to do that or implies that you’re pushing the boundaries too far, I want to know—and you and I will take the gutsy steps to make sure we make a difference.

4. Provide “mastery experiences.” People learn through repeated exposure. At Take Charge we call those mastery experiences baptisms by fire. They involve putting people into the thick of things, calling them to greatness, when others might suggest they’re not quite ready or need some more coddling. Notch up the challenge in your assignments, the stretch in people’s capabilities, and the greatness of your expectations.

Courageous workplaces are staffed with brave self-directed individuals who make a difference. Robert Quinn once noted that “excellence is a form of deviance.” Excellence emerges when leaders recognize that the pain of “average” or “mediocre” is greater than the pain of deviating from the norm. It takes a gutsy leader to stand outside the norm (especially when the organizational forces for conformity are so strong). Are you ready for the challenge? Take a few minutes to make something great happen today and each day that follows.