7 Ways To Inspire Courage

You know they can do it. They’re scared. Their lack of courage is a downward spiral. Fear stops trying. Lack of trying creates doubt. Doubt affirms negative self-perceptions. It breaks my heart to watch highly qualified, talented people let scared stop them.

And yet, it’s hard for those born with a few extra confidence genes to build courage in others. Skills that come naturally are hardest to teach.

Courage Drowns at 60 Feet

Apparently, I needed a dose of scared.

During the last day of Scuba certification, 60 feet under the crystal blue oceans of Bonaire, I stopped breathing. Oh, air was flowing. But the pristine water suddenly turned dark, and crushed my lungs. Panicked, I signaled to Sven, our Scuba instructor. “UP!” He looked confused. Now I signaled more aggressively, “I NEED TO GO UP, NOW.”

He checked my equipment, looked at me curiously and gently signed “No.” Now more frantic, I started to kick powerfully and swim up. He grabbed my BCD, deflated his, and held me down. Surfacing too soon would create medical problems. He calmly signaled that we would go up, together, and slowly. My husband and son watched curiously. Why was mom, a former lifeguard, competitive swimmer and triathlete freaking out?

7 Ways to Build Courage

Sven knew how he reacted to my panic mattered. He also knew that he couldn’t certify someone who could potentially lose it diving in a remote area of the Island. How he reacted below and above the surface made all the difference.

 Sven’s Approach to Courage


  1. Stay calm
    Confidence inspires courage. Sven didn’t react to my reaction. He never looked worried.
  2. Establish partnership
    “I’ve got you.” “We’re going to do this together.” “I’m not going to let you drown.”
  3. Ask questions
    When we got safely to shore he asked lots of questions to understand the scene. “When had I started to feel uncomfortable?” What did it feel like? Were there signs of Nitrogen Narcosis?. Surely such an absurd reaction had an explanation.
  4. Reinforce competence
    Sven reassured in his Dutch accent that I was fully competent. “Karin, you’ve mastered all the skills and demonstrated them well.” “ You know all the standby skills.” You know what to do in any emergency.”
  5. Naming the fear
    “The biggest risk now is that you become afraid of your reaction to your fear. You weren’t afraid of going deep before, so there’s no reason you should again, unless you tell yourself you’re going to be afraid.
  6. Straight talk
    “I know you can do this, and want to certify you. If you panic again, I can’t.” There are consequences to low self-confidence. We can’t risk putting people in certain positions, for their safety and others.
  7. Encouragement
    “You’ve got this. Let’s try again.”

We did. The next dive led to certification. Certification led to a wonderful week of diving all over the Island, including remote areas. No fear, just fun.

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.


  1. This is what leadership is all about. Presence, coaching, and confidence in the ability of others… Thank you for sharing such a wonderful and practical piece.

  2. Did you make up those 7 steps? Very nice.

    Do you believe confidence can be innate? You write, “it’s hard for those born with a few extra confidence genes”. Is that just tongue in cheek writing style or do you believe confidence can be improved.

    • Marcus, I’ve been wrestling with this topic for a while… how do you instill confidence? I think much of it has to do with nature, and mostly being raised in a highly supportive environment… that has felt hard to un do with some I have (and you) have worked with… and yet, some thrive. I am grateful for this experience because it helped me look at the components more objectively, from the vantage point of the person being grown.

      Yes, I do believe confidence can be developed, nurtured, and grown.

  3. Scuba diving is on the bucket list.

    After coaching close to 300 clients, I’ve learned each person is different.

    So, you’ve got to understand the individual’s particular behavior style before you start creating change.

    Someone that’s performance focused vs. prevention focused needs to be dealt with differently.

    I want to understand the style of the individual and coach from there.

    Some want to be pushed. Others want to be challenged. The next person might want time. Another might want lots of information. Some want to be pulled. Then there’s the person who wants to talk about it.

    Before changing behavior, understand their behavior style. Otherwise, you can move them backward instead of forward.

  4. Karin
    Thank you for this wonderful post, am sharing it right away. I believe courage is the bridge that leads us to discover the greatness within us. Your post also reminded me of David Schwartz’s wonderful quote ‘Action cures fears’.

  5. Pingback: Lead Change Group | Follow, Feel and Flow: Integrating Leading and Following

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