If courage is a competency, can I teach it?
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Courage is defined as the willingness and ability to take an action for the greater good, despite personal risks to the individual. In the workplace, these risks are normally social exclusion or ridicule (as opposed to physical hurt or death).

A competency is defined as skills, something you can do. In other words, an action.

If courage is a competency or skill, then it can be learnt. And taught.

So what would you be teaching someone who wanted to become more 'courageous'?

How about starting with the bedrock of courage – values. Although I can already hear teeth gnashing and throats rumbling, we’re talking about organisations here, not trying to change individuals.

What if an organisation made it very clear what it stood for? And what it didn’t. Not simply a list of what it might stand for, until something better came along. If individuals really knew what an organisation stood for and that it was committed to those values, then over time it would a) lose employees who didn’t like those values (hint – they’re the ones who aren’t engaged), b) attract like minded people (hint – saving recruiting costs), and c) help make those employees who were ambivalent more committed (and increase their productivity).

The second thing I’d teach employees is to measure risks and benefits properly. Humans are really good at over-emphasing the potential bad points of actions they’re not sure about so teaching employees how to assess the real risks and benefits will inevitably reduce the perceived risks and increase the likelihood of action.

Third on my list would be teaching employees how to minimise risks (now they know what they are). Simple things like checking the facts, getting support from others (preferably senior), quantifying the costs, linking the actions to the core values, taking small steps (rather than large leaps) and defining the alternatives.

Lastly, I’d show them everything the organisation is doing (and has done) to support their courage. I’d tell them the stories of how the secretary stood up to the MD (and got promoted), of how a high value customer who got turned away became bankrupt within a month, of how the business made radical choices and prospered. I’d also show them how the organisation positively recognises employees who take risks and succeed, and forgives those who take risks and fail.

Courage is a competency. Like any other competency, I cannot force an employee to use it. However, I can recognise it, I can teach it, I can develop it and I can support it.