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Karin And David’s Leadership Articles

Eliminate courage sinkholes to energize your team.

When you think about inspiring courage at work, what comes to mind?

Encouraging your team to …

  • Speak their truth in meetings?
  • Challenge your thinking?
  • Share new ideas?
  • Question the way we’ve always done it?
  • Find a creative solution to a customer’s problem?
  • Push back on an antiquated rule?
  • Confront a co-worker’s destructive behavior?

You need as many of these business-transforming behaviors as you can get – and for most people, even these seemingly small acts of courage, require real effort.

Until your team is certain that it’s safe to speak up, they’ll worry about rejection or career repercussions. And, that worry makes even small efforts feel big.

So how do you ensure your team has the courageous energy for creative solutions?

First, do everything you can to make speaking up the norm.

Even if you’re the most encouraging boss ever, assume your team members have picked up some scar tissue along the way, that makes safe silence the default.

Next, check carefully for these caustic energy drains.

Where Does Courage Show Up?

In every Courageous Culture keynote and workshop, we ask, “What’s the most courageous act you’ve ever done at work?

Consistently, an alarming number of responses involve overcoming a pretty toxic scene.

  • “A doctor was trying to do an experimental procedure I knew could hurt a child (and was against the parent’s consent), so I blocked the door.”
  • “I challenged a chronically passive-aggressive co-worker.”
  • “My boss was exaggerating the numbers to our leadership team. I held fast to the truth. ”
  • “I stood up to a boss who was trying to bully me.”
  • “I called ethics because I was tired of all the screaming.”
  • “And then,  I got retaliated against for calling ethics.”
  • “They asked me to tell the truth about the CEO’s behavior. I did. And, he was fired.”
  • “My integrity clashed with the executive team’s direction, so I quit.”

Sobering answers, aren’t they?

When people spend their courage reserves just getting past the bad stuff, there’s no energy left for the courage your business needs most—creative problem solving and micro-innovation.

Limited Supply

For most people, innovation takes energy and courage—the courage to be vulnerable, to risk rejection from peers, or invite uncertainty.

Your people can only make that effort a limited number of times before they’re done. The more courage they use to address injustice, toxic leadership, needless politics, or poor decision-making, the less effort they’ll have to spend on what really matters.

If it takes heroic effort to fight against a caustic culture, you won’t get any of the courage you need to serve your customer or build your business.

How to Stop Wasting People’s Courage

You can build a culture that leverages and amplifies every act of courage from every team member. Start with a foundation of safety and clarity:

  1. Don’t tolerate harassment or bullying – from anyone, but especially from anyone in a management or leadership role (even if they’re otherwise rock star performers). If it takes a week’s supply of courage for an employee just to show up for another day, you’re wasting money and talent.
  2. Examine your systems and infrastructure for injustice or unintended consequences that prevent people from focusing on the work that matters most.
  3. Get out and really listen to what your frontline employees are experiencing every day. Ask questions that give them an opportunity to tell you what’s really going on.
  4. Take those comments in your employee surveys seriously. For every employee that spoke up, there’s likely another who blew it off or stayed silent.
  5. Clarify your MITs (Most Important Thing) and make sure every decision and action contributes to those objectives. Check in at every level of the business to ensure that everyone’s got it – and does it. Lack of clarity, chaos, and poor decision-making sap people’s courage. But—when everyone knows where they’re going and how they’ll get there, it energizes the team.

Now on to Changing the Game

Once you’ve addressed these foundational issues, the game is on. Now you can focus on the positive culture shifts that encourage your team to contribute.

You’ve probably been at a conference or meeting where the facilitator asks the audience to share a thought. There is an uncomfortable silence as people think about their answer and weigh the risk of saying something against the safety of staying silent.

Finally, one person raises their hand and offers their thoughts. Soon another follows, then another, and before long there’s a robust conversation.

What happened?

The culture in the room shifted from safe silence to contribution. By the end of the meeting, everyone knew they could trust one another. That their thoughts belonged in the conversation. That there was value to taking part.

You can create that same dynamic in your organization when you make contribution the default.

Imagine a team culture where everyone knows that if there is a perspective that hasn’t been heard, and that it can improve the project or avoid catastrophe, they can count on their colleague to share it. AND, that everyone will listen, consider it with care, and value it as they make decisions.

Because that’s what we do.

Once you build that culture, your people don’t have to spend courage on solving problems, speaking up, or challenging one another’s thinking. It’s just what we do.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Your Turn

We’d love to hear from you:  What is your most courageous act at work? How do you ensure your team’s courage doesn’t go to waste?

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

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


  1. K Buechler

    I believe you are right, that the courage to express ideas and contrary points of view may be in limited supply. I have been outspoken for several years: identifying weaknesses in management and offering possible solutions; expressing alternative points of view; challenging management on bad decisions. I believe these efforts have had a negative effect on my career. The most recent was interviewing with a committee for a promotion that I didn’t get. When I later asked one of those people on the committee what happened, their response was “It was a committee decision, but the committee didn’t make the decision.” I have given members of management multiple opportunities to discuss this and, each time, they declined to do so. As a result, I am losing my interest in the organization and finding it increasingly difficult to support their goals if they won’t support mine.

    • David Dye

      K, thank you for sharing your experience. It is not uncommon. There is an art to sharing and challenging in cultures that don’t value those behaviors. Often, this means framing the suggestions in terms of how it will help leaders achieve the organization’s goals (as opposed to pointing out problems). For leaders, it means asking questions to get underneath what might be presented on the surface.

    • David Dye

      [in my best calm computer voice] Wow, Dave. That’s a great look at how trust breaks down. I particularly like your “trickle up” example. We call it “Ditching the Diaper Genie” – the tendency to wrap bad news in self-protective spin. It goes both ways (up and down): https://letsgrowleaders.com/2017/01/31/5-signs-the-diaper-genie-effect-is-destroying-your-culture/

      Thanks for the contribution David – trust never goes out of style. And for the 2001 fans… I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t open the doors.


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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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7 Practical Ways to be a Bit More Daring

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