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What's The Key To Career Success? Courage.


LAST UPDATED: 07 June, 2023

What does courage have to do with helping you reach your personal or business dreams?


Why? Because it means being honest with yourself and others. It means being able to confront your fears or uncertainties. It means being true to your values or principles. And it means being able to embrace humility and to be vulnerable enough to accept when you have messed up.

Courage equally means being able to put your pride or beliefs in your pocket and truly listen to what others have to say even though you may not agree.

Former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill captured this beautifully when he said: ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen’.

Courage in your personal life and workplace goes to the very essence of respect in yourself and respect for others. Handled properly, courage can be a tremendous platform from which to build your self-worth and help build the trust of others in you.

How honest are you with yourself? How often do you cheat on your principles or values for something or someone?

I have and I’m a straight down the line, honest sort of guy. But there have been numerous times when I know I haven’t been courageous about my feelings, my ideas, nor my advice.

Why? Typically, it’s the fear of what others may think of you, the fear of failure or success, the fear of being proven wrong or the fear of being perceived as vulnerable and therefore weak.

But courage is all about your ability to act when you face opposition, indignity, or a perceived risk to your reputation.

There have been times in my life when I have displayed a distinct lack of courage, and it has been disempowering, demotivating and spurned all sorts of uncertainty and self-doubt. There have also been other times when courage has led to increased self-confidence, self-worth, and a sense of being energised and productive.  

Tips to develop your courage in the workplace

We all know the feeling too well – we want to speak up at work about something we feel strongly about but we don’t or, we do, but we water it down to the extent it’s nowhere near the truth we’d like to speak.

Why do we sabotage ourselves like this? Most of us will find an excuse: ‘In my workplace, they don’t allow that type of questioning’, or: ‘My manager won’t listen he/she cuts me off when I try raise issues’, and so it goes.

There are two reasons we don’t do it. The first is fear and the second is we don’t know how to have tough conversations.

I’m fortunate to work in an environment that encourages tough conversations without fear of retribution or ridicule. Yet even still it takes courage to have those discussions, so I can only imagine what it would be like in a less receptive work culture.

How do you add courage to your repertoire of skills?

Jim Detert, author of the book ‘Choosing Courage: The Everyday Guide to Being Brave at Work’ offers some solutions.

First, he says, be selective about what you raise and then choose carefully how you go about your approach. He says our immediate response may not be the best and it is wise to give yourself time to evaluate your emotions, think about how they may impact the team or person you are approaching and then, if needed, temper your approach to get a better outcome.

Second, he advises you to think carefully about the way you frame your question or message. These need to be handled tactfully and if possible, with warmth, empathy, and humility.   

If you’re a leader, even if it is a small team, try to imbue your team with the courage to act and question by agreeing, as a team, on the acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and then holding everyone accountable.   

One of the most courageous and powerful things you can do as an individual or leader is to admit mistakes and handle it in a positive, productive way. It sets the example for others, underpins a culture of accountability, and feeds an environment of positive learning without fear of retribution.

I listened to a webinar recently with one of my favourite thought leaders on trust, Rachel Botsman. During it, she said: ‘Humility is what people are looking for in their leaders. Once you've established your credibility, it’s OK to say you don't know, or your product doesn't do this or that, or you won't be able to deliver on time, or I'm wrong’.

‘Humility is the rocket fuel for trust' – Rachel Botsman

If you’re an individual, you’d do well to take a lesson from Detert’s book when he says you should take small steps i.e., start by raising an issue one-on-one with a team member and then only later raise it in a meeting.

I end with a quote from a book written by a friend of mine, Bernard Desmidt titled: ‘Team Better Together 5 Disciplines Of High Performing Teams ‘

‘A team’s capacity to become high performing is dependent on the team members’ ability to deal with their own and each other’s concerns. To hold one’s own and others’ concerns with respect, dignity and legitimacy is what distinguishes high performing, effective teams‘.

That takes courage and believe me when I say, the rewards, personally and as a team, are great.