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Courageous manager

How to Be a More Courageous Manager

by | Jan 15, 2019 | By Karin Hurt, Courageous Cultures |

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 provideon being a courageous manager 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.

3. Advocate for Your Teamcourageous managers create courageous cultures

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.HR Storytellers: Karin Hurt 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)

Courageous Cultures Research on Innovation and Psychological Safety

Learn about the research in our Executive Strategy Guide. Click on the image to learn more.

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)?

D- Doable

Is this idea something we could actually do? How would we make it happen? What would make it easier or more difficult?

E- Engaging

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

Courageous Cultures Book by Karin Hurt and David DyeWe’ve written a new book on being a more courageous leader, building courageous cultures, and fostering courage and innovation in your team.

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?

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today?


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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

Be More Daring


Get the FREE Courageous Cultures E-Book to learn how

7 Practical Ways to be a Bit More Daring

Be More Daring


Get the FREE Courageous Cultures E-Book to learn how

7 Practical Ways to be a Bit More Daring

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