Be the Courageous Manager You Want Your Boss to Be
Being a courageous manager isn’t always about big risks, scary decisions, and confrontation. In fact, Most moments of managerial courage come down to the micro-decisions you make when you’re just a little bit scared, and the stakes really aren’t that high.
In this article, I share a bit about my own experience with courage, share six ways to show up as a more courageous manager, and then share insights from our new research on how to build more managerial courage in yourself and more courage in your teams.
Managerial Courage or Stupidity?
I will never forget this ironically courageous, closed-door conversation, which sealed my belief that managerial courage is one of the most challenging leadership competencies to find and develop. Even powerful, seemingly confident people often fear the consequences of doing what’s right.
My boss said:
Karin, the difference between you and me is that you are willing to stick to your values no matter what, even if it might jeaoporadize your career trajectory.
How do you respond to a statement like that?
We both stood there in awkward silence for what seemed like an hour but was probably a minute and a half.
I knew what she was really saying. “Karin if I were you, I would let this one go. It’s not worth the political capital to fight this. But I’m not you, you’re you, and I know you’re not going to back down, and I kind of admire your courage, sister.”
Of course, there are lots of times when backing down is exactly the right thing to do. Many battles are worth losing.
There’s a serious difference between courage and stupidity.
But not this time. I had to stay the course. And as it turns out, she showed up and had my back.
Courageous is often contagious.
And here’s the good news. Most of the time you’re not going to be faced with some big career challenging position.
Most moments of managerial courage come down to the micro-decisions you make when you’re just a little bit scared, and the stakes aren’t really that high.
Show up with just a bit more courage when it would be easier not to, day after day, week after week, and watch what happens to your influence and impact.
So how do you show up courageous?
6 Ways to Show Up as a More Courageous Manager
1. Address Performance Issues
Nothing drives high performers crazier than a boss who looks the other way and lets slackers slide. Have the courage to provide consistent performance feedback and address performance issues head on. If you do this early and often, the chances of you having to deal with a really tough issue (like having to fire the guy) reduce significantly. If you don’t know where to start, here’s how to start team accountability when you never have before.
2. Give Credit
Have you ever worked for a boss who took credit for your work? What do you think they were afraid of? You know what they should be afraid of? Karma. The other shoe almost always drops on people like this, and they end up with exactly what they feared—diminished credibility and trust. Have the courage to lift other people up early and often.
Often when employees complain that “My boss is a wuss,” it’s because their boss lacks the courage to advocate for the team’s ideas or needs. The minute their boss or a peer asks for more clarification or challenges an idea, they back down. Or they find it easier to just lay low and not challenge the status quo than to raise a concern. If you can’t influence others, your team may begin to wonder why they need you. If this is tricky for you, start small, and find little ways to advocate for your team.
4. Be Willing to Experiment
Another huge complaint I hear from employees who say their boss lacks courage is their unwillingness to experiment with new ideas or approaches. If “It ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is your favorite mantra, learning the art of a well-run pilot can go a long way in upping your courage while managing your stress.
5. Show a Bit of Vulnerability
This was one of the hardest for me to learn. Employees want to know they’re working for another human being. Having the courage to let people see a bit more about who you really are, and to admit when you’re wrong or don’t have all the answers, can go a long way in building trust and connection. Here’s the story (see video) of how I learned this.
6. Make Timely Decisions
No one wants to work for a waffler. Have the courage to make decisions and stick to them. If you struggle with this, get your team to help you.
See Also: How to Change Your Mind (and Not Lose Their Trust and Support)
And Why It’s Hard: What Sabotages Courage–According to the Research
We recently conducted extensive quantitative and qualitative research in collaboration with the University of North Colorado Social Research lab to understand what sabotages managerial and employee courage, and how to build a more courageous culture.
As it turns out, the ideas employees are holding back are not trivial like kombucha in the breakrooms or remote team taco day.
When we asked employees what that idea they were holding back would accomplish, the top three answers were: an idea to improve the customer experience; the employee experience; or productivity in a process.
You can learn more about our research in our recent article in Training Magazine: Build Teams that Speak Up and Solve Problems
Or in our Fast Company Article: The Main Reasons Employees Don’t Speak Their Mind at Work
An Easy Way to Get Started
One of the biggest findings of our research was that managers and employees at all levels of the business lacked the confidence to share their ideas (40%). And, another big issue was that people were concerned that their ideas wouldn’t be taken seriously (50%).
As we dug underneath those findings, what we learned is that sometimes employees weren’t positioning their ideas as effectively as they could.
One tool that’s really resonating in our leadership development programs is the I.D.E.A. model for positioning your ideas.
Start with an opening like this:
“I really care about our company and the work our team is doing, and I’ve got an idea that I really think will ____ (insert business outcome here).
Then use the I.D.E.A. Model to position your idea.
Why is this idea interesting? What strategic problem does it solve? How will results improve from this idea (e.g. customer experience, employee retention, efficiency)?
Is this idea something we could actually do? How would we make it happen? What would make it easier or more difficult?
Who would we need to engage to make this happen? Why should they support it? Where are we most likely to meet resistance?
What are the most important actions needed to try this? How would we start?
More Support to Help You Be a More Courageous Manager
You can download a FREE chapter of the book and the foreword by Dr. Amy Edmondson or order it from Amazon here.
Your turn. What’s your best advice for showing up as a more courageous manager?