Encouraging Courage

Encouraging Courage

This week’s theme on the Fearless Creative Leadership podcast is ‘Courage'.’

Unlocking creativity is about celebrating uncertainty and embracing risk. 

The reality is that most businesses aren't designed that way. Nor are most human beings. 

Instead, we stop ourselves, unconsciously and consciously. We act against our own self interest, willingly and unwillingly. We’re hesitant, anxious, and often - far more often than we realize or want to admit - we’re afraid.

Fear is a creativity killer. It assassinates the 'what if' before it has taken its first breath, cutting off exploration with the precision of a surgeon. It hides in the shadows and it cloaks itself in an endless array of disguises. It can take control when we're not looking and even when we are. 

What makes fear complicated is that when it's well-managed it can be a force for good. After all, it's helped our species to survive for a couple of thousand years. Today it's part of the fabric of every realistic business plan and as a leader you have to make room for fear at the table, or run the risk that every decision will be made in the absence of any kind of reality. 

So, to lead and unlock creative thinking we need first to be able to identify fear and then accept its role. 

And then, if we can, we should push beyond that, to a place in which fear is not our enemy or our obstacle or even our confusing ally. A place in which we recognize that fear can also be our fuel - a source of motivation and, on our best days, courage to challenge the norms and upset the status quo.

In my work, I have seen fear play this role for some leaders. They use their fear of the status quo as motivation to lead change and unlock creative thinking. Others use it as their internal guide, pushing their own thinking and that of others until they feel those internal alarm bells that they’re going too far. Only then do they feel that they’re on the verge of something worthwhile. These leaders are searching for fear instead of running from it.

This mindset shift requires courage. A willingness to see fear through a different lens, and then to reach our hand, head and heart into its gaping jaws, trusting that we’ll come out alive.

Courage is relative. What is easy for you might be cold-sweat inducing for me. Which means there is no standard template by which to help people become courageous in the face of possibilities that scare them.

There are, however, three things we can do to encourage courage.

First, let’s recognize that we can change how we look at the world. However our brains are wired today, they can be changed. Recent medical research has shown that the brain, with the right support, is capable of forming new pathways. An old dog can literally learn new tricks. 

Which means that the choice to embrace fear as an ally or an asset is one that is available to all of us. 

Second, we are better leaders when we are conscious about the kind of thinking we expose ourselves to as leaders. When we surround ourselves with doom sellers and naysayers, even the most fertile imaginations become subdued and depressed. But, when we put ourselves in close proximity to those who identify the status quo as a fraud and who believe the future is a destination to be met on our terms, we expand our own horizons and our view of what’s possible. Leading is lonely, but it can be dramatically less so. Courage doesn't mean you go it alone - in fact, it's the exact opposite.

And third, be clear about what matters to us. About the difference we want to make. If your destiny lies on the other side of the raging river, the courage to find a way to get across - even if you don’t know how to swim - will begin to appear. 

Leadership is a live broadcast. It doesn’t wait for rehearsal or practice, it happens in real time. Creating the conditions in which we encourage our own courage to play a leading role adds a critical element to how we unlock creativity in our businesses - and in ourselves.