In the classic Frank L Baum story, The Wizard of Oz, the lion battled a witch and her guards, while travelling down the yellow brick road to Oz. Once he got there, he was sent out again to permanently defeat the witch. His only request for all of his troubles was to be awarded the gift of courage not realizing that he had courage all along. It wasn’t something that could be bestowed upon him or that he could purchase; it was something that came from within and that he used many times on his journey.
At the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, Cindy Solomon who has devoted many years to the study of courage, emphasized the very lesson that, after much trouble, the Lion learned from the Wizard.
Courage is Within Us
We began the session by answering one simple question, “How many of you see yourself as courageous?” There I sat in a room full of professional women of all ages and experience levels and only about 50% raised their hands. We then closed our eyes and answered the same question. This time, about 90% of these humble women raised their hands.
Conversely, Solomon relayed, when the same question is asked of men, the majority of them raise their hands with eyes open and fewer raise their hands with eyes closed.
As women, we know we are courageous. This courage helps us to excel in environments that often work against us. With only about 4% of fortune 500 CEOs being women, we have managed to lead from all levels of organizations. We beat the odds by having the courage to lead as assistants, managers, directors and VPs all while leading active home lives that often involve family and social activities. It takes courage for a woman to be a leader regardless of her professional or social position. In this regard, courage is a key component to successful leadership.
So what’s happening here?
Four Types of Courage
According to Ms. Solomon, courage is very personal and depends on a combination of our level of awareness of our actions and of our personal values, skills and knowledge.
She identifies four types of courage but we’re going to focus on the fourth, core courage.
Core courage is the toughest type of courage because it requires us to be self-aware and to think about our lives and the position we want in this world. In order to have core courage we have to have a vision and then move toward our long term goals with unrelenting determination to make that vision happen.
Using Our Core Courage
To move us closer to our goals is only possible if we are true to ourselves. This authenticity can be seen by others in how we interact at work and at home as well as how we conduct each daily aspect of our lives. It’s important to be clear about who we are and where we are going from the start so we don’t send mixed signals to others and confuse those who have to interact with us.
Before we can emulate our values in our everyday lives, we have to take an honest look at ourselves and define that person. This careful preparation can be a scary task, as we may find some things about our lives that are not aligned with our values. It takes courage to change, as this may mean speaking up to a boss or colleague, setting new boundaries or even leaving the job.
In the end, Solomon points out, those who are clear about who they are and where they are going, tend to be viewed as innovative and creative in life as well as within their organizations.
Innovation and Courage
Courage in any form forces us to think strategically about getting what we want, selling our ideas and sometimes bucking the norm. It’s easy to go with the flow, but what happens when you have a fresh idea, something new and exciting that may be the solution to an issue at hand? It takes courage to think “outside the box” and put your idea on the table.
How many times are our sentences cut off in meetings or our ideas tossed aside? Our courage from within forces us to be innovative and find other ways to get our point across and be heard.
Core courage is what helps us to assess our current situation and make a decision. Do we stay the course or do we change it up?
Does this situation fit our vision? Whatever the decision, we call on our inner core courage to give us the creative strength and will to do it.
Three Steps to Innovation
Solomon identified three steps to take to become more innovative in life.
- Take the leap (whatever that may be). Find the courage to take ownership of a situation that you are not happy with, and change it. You don’t like it when someone else gets credit for your idea, so find a way to make sure it doesn’t happen. It could involve having a conversation with your boss about how this happens in almost every meeting (that’s courage). It could be just taking the reins, leading the project and shining (that’s courage too). Whatever it is, find the courage to make it right.
- Be true to yourself, or be authentic. Figure out what is important and surround yourself with people who share or appreciate those values. This makes it easier to pursue your goals and uphold your values at work and at home. The process of innovation starts with the courage to get to know yourself.
- Expand your toolbox of language. Engaging in activities such as attending networking events, reading and taking courses enhances your language skills and enables you to communicate with others according to their individual communication style. Effective communications skills are essential to gaining respect and increasing the network of people who support your success.
Courage in Action
At the conference, each of the professionals on the workshop panel spoke of fear and failure along with their successes.
Often, success came from actions they took in response to a failure or a fear they felt in their lives. They expressed the importance of accepting the fact that failure happens regardless of how well we planned.
It’s courage that helps us to regroup and move forward in the face of failure.
Just as the Cowardly Lion spent a lot of time looking for something that existed inside him, we sometimes doubt ourselves and this doubt holds us back. They called him “cowardly” because he was afraid when in fact, courage comes from the fear we feel in the moment.
Our goals are more important than the fear we feel while achieving them.
Once we start recognizing the courage within us, we cannot help but use that courage all the time and then we begin to call on our inner sources of courage to be more innovative and take a few more risks to advance our careers and our lives.