Courage is a Skill to Practice NOW

Jann FreedLeading Leave a Comment

Now is the time to practice courage.  In these uncertain times, courage is an important leadership skill to practice.  And just as any other skill, practice enhances most skills and usually makes them stronger.  Courage is a skill we need to be practicing professionally and personally in order to do the right things.

What is courage?  There are a few definitions upon which I tend to rely.

One is from Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  Brown says:

Courage is a heart word. … The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”

Michael Carroll, an expert on mindful leadership, talks a lot about courage.  Carroll is one of the sages for my book Leading with Wisdom:  Sage Advice from 100 Experts.  He says it this way:

“Any courageous act starts out by putting yourself last. Courage is putting the other first.  Courage involves a lot of letting go of all types of things.  Letting go unfolds on the job as courage.  We tend to hold onto jobs, paychecks, opinions, and titles as a way of trying to protect ourselves and our vulnerability.”

But when we practice “letting go of putting ourselves first,” then we can behave in ways that are consistent with the components of servant leadership.  We view the role of leader as servant–one who serves others by removing obstacles and not being the obstacle.

The horrific incident in Portland, where two men lost their lives trying to protect two young women on the train, has been haunting me and also has me thinking about courage.  In the social justice course I just completed, we discussed the harm of staying silent when speaking up is the right thing to do.  We dissected in detail the parable of the Good Samaritan and why people did or did not help along the way.  What made the Good Samaritan do what he did?  As I was talking about the situation in Portland with a friend, I made these comments:

As I was talking about the situation in Portland with a friend, I made these comments:

“I don’t think those men thought they would lose their lives by standing up and doing the right thing.  But now I think people might stay silent because of fear of violence. I am not sure I would have the courage now to say something when I know that is the right thing to do.  This incident can reinforce ‘minding your own business’ and not getting involved when help is needed.”

Recently, I met with a woman who is a diversity and inclusion consultant.  As we were talking about the incident in Portland, she reminded me that “we don’t have to get involved in a direct confrontation and we don’t have to say anything.  But we have to do something.”

She told me about this situation where a man got in the middle of a conflict and diffused it by eating potato chips.  Meet “Snack Man.”  “When you change the context, you change the dynamics and he de-escalated the situation.”  This clip is worth watching:


Doing the right thing is not easy.  It is hard to put ourselves last and others first. The two men who lost their lives in Portland were putting others first and they acted from their heart.  

Would you have helped the young women in Portland or would you have stayed uninvolved and let the hate speech continue?

Would you have had the courage to help? Would you be a Good Samaritan?

How are you practicing your courage both professionally and personally?