how to be a more courageous manager

How to Be a More Courageous Manager

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.

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

most moments of managerial courageAddress 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.

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.

Start small. How can you show up with just a bit more courage this week? Pick one area you wrestle with and start there.

Advocate for Your Team

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.

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.

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.

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.

Your turn. What’s your best advice for showing up as a more courageous manager?

How to work with indecisive boss

How to Work with an Indecisive Boss

One of the biggest “Do you have a private minute?” questions we get asked by managers is “How do I get anything done with my indecisive boss?”

Okay, the conversation is actually less polite. It’s usually more along the lines of:

“Aghhhhh, Karin and David do you see what I’m talking about? Did you watch him in that meeting? He postponed EVERY SINGLE decision. He’s the most indecisive boss I’ve ever worked for.

Why can’t he make a decision? We’ve laid out all the data he asked for. And he keeps stalling! At this point I’d rather just hear a “no” than to talk about it anymore. The really frustrating thing about this decision is, there’s really not a downside here. It’s a no-brainer! What should I do? How do I help my boss get to a decision?”

We get it. Dealing with an indecisive boss is frustrating at best, particularly when you really care about your work. After all, he’s the boss, making decisions IS his job. It’s tempting to wonder why you should have to work so hard to help him.

If you’ve read Winning Well, you know what we’re going to say next. Yup, be the leader you want your boss to be.

How to Help Your Indecisive Boss Make a Decision

So here are a few ways to get your indecisive boss comfortable with making a decision.

1. Ask Strategic Questions

One of the biggest mistakes we see managers make when pushing their boss for a decision is that they do too much talking.

If you’re met with resistance, stop selling and start asking questions to understand why your boss is stuck.

  • How do you think this change would impact the customer experience?
  • Have you ever tried anything like this before? How did it go?
  • What’s driving your hesitation?
  • Who else needs to be involved in such decisions?
  • What do you think would happen if we implemented this approach?
  • What am I overlooking here?
  • What do you think your boss would be concerned about here?
  • Are there any political issues I might be overlooking?

2. Provide a Clear Path Forward

When presenting an idea to an indecisive boss, don’t just talk conceptually. Be crystal clear on what your idea would take to implement: specifically who would need to do what by when and how you will measure success.

Indecisive managers are often afraid of change because it just sounds like too much work. Show how moving forward with your plan is easier than sticking with the status quo.

3. Make it Reversible

One of the biggest reasons for decision paralysis is that it feels so permanent. Find a way to let them taste the impact of the decision in a way that can be easily reversed. Got a new process? Try it with one team. Worried about the customer experience? Try your idea out with a small subset of customers and carefully monitor the experience. It’s a lot easier to sell-in a pilot than to convince a risk-averse decision maker to make a “permanent” change.

4. Include Others

If your boss needs to socialize the idea with others, offer to tag along. Chances are if he’s afraid to make a decision, he’s equally afraid of expressing his opinion to his boss or other stakeholders.

Offer to support him with an enthusiastic, “Awesome, I’d love to join a quick call to help you socialize the idea.” Or, “What can I do to support you as you’re communicating this idea?”

5. Talk about the Pattern

If this is an ongoing problem it might be time to have a genuine conversation with your boss about why she struggles to make a decision.

It might be time for an I.N.S.P.I.R.E. conversation.

I-Initiate: I really care about the success of this project and in doing everything I can to support you and the team.

N-Notice:  I’ve noticed you are really struggling with this decision

S-Support:  For example…

P-Probe: What’s going on?

I-Invite: What can I do to make this easier?

You can download a PDF of the INSPIRE model and complete process here. 

6. Keep Trying

Keep grounded in confident humility. This isn’t about you or your boss, it’s about doing the right thing. There’s nothing more convincing than someone passionate about doing the right things for the right reasons.

Give your indecisive boss a chance to sleep on it, and try again.

Your Turn

Working with an indecisive boss can be frustrating, but with some empathy and confidently humility, you can help them to lead and get the clarity you need. Leave a comment and share: What’s your best advice for working for an indecisive boss?