Courage in business very seldom resembles the heroic impulsiveness that sometimes surfaces in life or death situations. It is not about being a superhero. Courage in daily life means something different; courage to speak one’s opinion, to stand up for what is right, to face tough issues, to keep going after an injustice, and to not, unless you agree with it, go with the flow. Courage is to be true to oneself.
Courageis a special kind of calculated risk-taking, learned and refined over time by ordinary people like you and me. Courage is both interpersonal and moral; interpersonal courage confronts poor performance which is fundamental to changing behaviour, moral courage is appreciating the difference between right and wrong and understanding where the line needs to be drawn in order to act.
Good leaders seem to have a greater than average willingness to make bold moves, strengthening the chances of success by careful deliberation and preparation. This is not inborn but acquired and improved through experience and practice. It is not about going on a course, it is about listening to and believing in your instincts, being brave and taking an intelligent gamble.
Last week wasn’t a good one for the NHS. Whilst I am not privy to which reports are and are not factually accurate, clearly something has gone very wrong. For those who have either articulated or privately thought ‘that wouldn’t happen here’ then my suggestion would be to have another think about that, because the answer is that it could, the question is how can you assure yourself it wouldn’t? Last week should be making us allthink.
Whatever your job role; whether within, affiliated to or completely outside the NHS, think about your last few weeks at work. Think about when you were faced with a challenge where you knew that you either needed to say or do something. Did you chicken out and think ‘I’ll come back to it later’? Do you regret not having done what needed doing or what needed to be said? Do you feel like you were weak willed?
It strikes me that if the answer to the last three questions is ‘no’ then I suspect you are someone who might opt for ‘the easy life’. Don’t get me wrong, there are times that we all opt for the easy life, we are human after all, but if you know you should have done or said something then the courageous thing would have been not to opt for ‘the easy life’. The challenge with the courageous option is that it is harder work and frequently feels thankless but ultimately is the most rewarding because you are doing what you believe needs to be done.
It is natural to follow the path of least resistance and to want to do what is easy and practiced. Leading with integrity, generating and sharing learning and implementing effectively requires a bit of pain, uncertainty and discomfort. Courage requires choosing what you most want in spite of doubts and fear and then respectfully challenging those around you.The gamble needs to be intelligent and sometimes the courageous act is to not do something.
Courage is extremely powerful without it success is not possible, leadership will not exist, and personal satisfaction is extinguished. Why is courage the key to bringing life to ones values and principles, to learning more quickly from mistakes, to more effective implementation? It requires stepping beyond personality, ego and what we are used to doing, it requires making a conscious decision to say what you think needs to be said or to do what you think needs to be done.
Whilst you might hold and believe core principles and values and want to be more effective you will not deliver them without personal courage. Understanding and being committed to something is different from actually doing it. It requires staying conscious of what you most want and being aware of your behaviour or ways of thinking that prevent you from reaching it.
Where courage stops is where leadership stops, this is not only in the NHS.
Senior figures need courage now more than ever; courage to do things differently, to really challenge the status quo to make radical change; to make tough workforce decisions, to hold all staff truly to account, to engage partners and to have the courage to keep going and survive. Sometimes courage is also needed to admit a mistake was made, rather than trying to paper over the cracks and sometimes courage is needed to ask for help.
As Winston Churchill once said ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts’. Some failure in the Health Service is fatal, we should remember that.