When we think of the word courage, we often think of “break into battle” types of scenarios.
We can think of words like bravery, perseverance, strength, fortitude and grit.
But there’s another kind of courage that some people actually mistake for weakness: the courage to admit failure or mistake, the courage to acknowledge a wrong-doing, the courage to accept circumstances beyond one’s control, and the courage to apologize when an apology is warranted.
I vividly remember a former colleague of mine whose take on courage and success was vastly different than mine.
I was working on a big project in a fairly small office. I knew that this project was really quite beyond the scope of one person, but it had been assigned to me. I labored away as I watched others in the office whose workloads appeared to be quite manageable, when I thought: “This is silly. I can be a martyr, or I can ask for help.”
I approached the district manager and simply asked: “Is there someone who might be able to take on a portion of this project? Not only do I think it would benefit the results, but I do believe that the magnitude of the project really needs a ‘sum of the parts greater than the whole’ approach, and I could really use a hand.”
The manager was receptive. I got the help I needed.
But my colleague? She said to me, “What an admission of weakness and failure.”
My response? “Quite the contrary. What an admission of strength.”
That incident happened over 25 years ago, but it has always stuck in my mind as a perfect example of courage…the courage to ask for help when you need it, to not allow ego to prevail, and to ensure the best possible outcomes for any endeavor.
It takes courage to:
- Admit and acknowledge when you’re wrong.
- Apologize when you’ve hurt, offended or caused someone hardship.
- Stand alone when your values, integrity and beliefs are challenged unfairly.
- Be humble when others who are less capable, competent or productive seem to get all the glory. Life sure ain’t fair sometimes.
- Take a contrary stance, not for the sake of being a contrarian, but because it’s right.
- Lead without need for recognition, rewards or accolades.
- And some days, it takes courage to simply face another day, another challenge when you feel all alone.
Courage isn’t just about stepping forward. Sometimes it’s about stepping back, or stepping out of the way. Allowing muddy waters to clear. Responding, not reacting.
Quiet courage isn’t always easy, because those who shout loudest and who demand the spotlight will surely get it.
In a world of bigger-faster-louder, we need leaders who have the courage to go about their work in a humble, service-oriented way. Leaders who know that it is more important to shine the light on others, rather than demand the spotlight for themselves.
Accolades, awards, recognition and appreciation are wonderful. But they should be the result, not the goal. It takes the courageous soul to accept and recognize that because, after all, we’re human: we like to be rewarded and recognized for the good that we do.
I’ll end with a quote from Mary Anne Radmacher:
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”