Peak Performance Strategies

Commited to your consistent success

Courage: Catalyst for Success

knowledge is turned into success by demonstrating the courage to do what is necessary. Otherwise, knowledge remains knowledge. The precondition for greatness is courage. Courage is not one attribute, or a recipe, but it is a cluster of strengths.

Having coached a total of 7 managing directors and CEO’s who has “failed” the businesses they were employed in, expressed amazement when two themes were repeatedly expressed in the interviews. The first one was that 6 out of 7 “knew what had to be done”. Secondly, 5 out of 7 said “I was left to sink even though people on the team knew what we should be doing.” This led to the conclusion that the people in companies don’t fail because of a lack/shortage of knowledge, but because the people don’t action what they know will produce the outcomes.
One reason for failure in business that the author will pay attention to in this article is lack of courage that underlies the lack of performance.

Defining Courage
Ben Dean, an executive coach who works internationally says about courage: “(it) involves persistence in danger or hardship.”
Peterson and Seligman define courage as "Emotional strength that involves the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal." (Character Strengths and Virtues (2004) American Psychological Association, Oxford Press)
The Freibergs (in their book “Guts!”) defines courage as: "Guts," meaning passionate men and woman who don't hesitate to slaughter the sacred cows of convention” (Kevin and Jackie Freiberg (2004): Guts! Currency Book, Doubleday.)
Courage is having a strong enough reason why to do what you have to do in the face of resistance.
Reading the best seller by Jim Collins (“From Good to Great”) was like reading a book on courage. His suggestions about what it would take to make the transition are in one sense verifying what we know running our companies. At the same time it poses the challenge (or threat, to the afraid): “do you have the courage to be successful, because if you do, here are some things that need doing, e.g. “First Who…Then What”; “Confront the Brutal Facts,” etc.
Courage can also be considered as what it takes to translate knowledge into action. It is the bridge between knowing and doing. It is turning the map in the mind into an eventuality in the world.
Talking to 15 CEO’s trained at Harvard, about their reading preferences when they get their quarterly Harvard /business Review, what do they prefer to read? 9 out of the 15 said they prefer to read the case studies, because people have actually done it, have walked their talk rather than merely wrote about it. Theory is like learning/knowing which give the map. The journey starts with the courage/bravery to take the first of the required steps. Case studies boost their courage to do their convictions.

Courage as a Cluster of Strengths
Courage as a cluster of strengths was described fully and with more detail by Peterson and Seligman in “." (Character Strengths and Virtues (2004) American Psychological Association, Oxford Press). I will only touch on the more common themes shared by coaches during our sessions.
It starts with a strong reason why.
This strong reason why is based on a conviction, or fueled by a set of values or standards of how things should be.
In other contexts this behavior in the face of danger, or resistance, is called bravery or valor. The question arises: can one be brave without a strong opposition or resistance to an outcome?
There is the resilience to forge ahead no matter the strength or nature of the opposition. Peterson and Seligman then rightly make reference to how industriousness, diligence and perseverance are part of the cluster called courage.”

Brutal Facts about Courage
Courage is not easy. The display of courage is when there is opposition and one carries on in spite of the risk and pain of the opposition. Courage does not go without doubting the decision or process. This is where a strong conviction and confidence in the steps and outcome is very helpful to maintain one’s courage (see “fuel of courage” below)
Being courageous is not acceptable or popular. From interviews with courageous MD’s and CEO’s, part of “having courage” is about going against no-sayers, people who know better (and sometimes have the years of experience or “expertise” to back up their resistance), and the lame and lazy.
The tough attacks against courage are against people who are labeled “outsiders.” They bring fresh eyes and ideas to an existing situation, but the “old hands” of course know it wouldn’t work. Talking to “courageous” business men who were “newcomers” to a business or industry, they are of one mind that “it is tapping into one’s resilience and to just keep going.”
“ Courage means removing obstacles if they are under my control or influence,” one CEO said in retrospect. It may take a strong recommendation that these “old hands” and “experts” use their strengths in another organization. Put another way: ship in or ship out! Being “nice to others” caused him to compromise his conviction about the outcome, and he then failed “everybody.”
Antidote to skilled incompetence. Professor Chris Argyris, and recently Professor Max Bazerman (Harvard Business School) in addressing how management allows businesses to fail, refers to bad decisions. Any group of people have a rule for how they will function together. The have rules to play the game of “who Is the boss;” “who is the expert”; “who really knows”; “who must we listen to,”, etc. groups becomes very skilled at playing these games t the detriment of business success. The game becomes more important than the success, and facing the facts, and making courageous decisions. No wonder Collins’ claims “brutally confront the facts!” Larry Bossidy and and Ram Charan echoes this from their many studies on success. They say “confront reality!” (See their book by the same title (2004), published by Random House, Business Books)
Put this way; “death to games” in which a group can become skilled, but incompetent at their work of management (ergo “skilled incompetence,” coined by Prof Chris Argyris. For more information go to two opinion pieces that are relevant are “Skilled Incomptence” and “The Management Trap” ).

Fuel of Courage
Strong reason why. Of the large number of successful CEO’s and MD’s coached by the author, with virtually no exception did they tell of times when they were severely challenged, opposed and even threatened because of action they had to take. They knew that those were times when they were tested and “just had to go for it.” As the coach I translated those expressions into resilience, perseverance, bravery, etc. The driving force for not giving in or giving up was that they had very strong reasons to achieve the success through their chosen approach. It is noteworthy, that this drivenness was pumped by values, standards that they upheld as drivers and as stoppers. I can not vouch that any one of them might not consider doing an “Enron” if they thought they could get away with it. What I can vouch for is that the values they uphold included loyalty to shareholders, demonstrating excellence, having an impact, honesty, forthrightness and making a difference.
Clearly defined goal in mind. From the beginning courage means having a clear and compelling future in mind. The compellingness of this future was in its clarity. They could very clearly see what the difference was and how it would be like as an outcome. BIG outcomes were seen also as manageable components, each one completing the jigsaw puzzle of success. This also implies that the outcomes are achievable, and progress can be tracked, and changes made in time to ensure success.
Self-belief, or high Confidence that they can make it happen. Asking them to rate their confidence level on a scale of 10, they indicated that it fluctuated, but mostly “it was in the area of 7-9.” Of course there were times when they had some doubts, but mostly they did the kind of thinking and internal testing that kept their confidence levels above 7.
Involving others. During times of displaying courage, leaders we have studied and coached had others involved in a variety of ways. Some were their supporters who cheered them on. Some were their sounding boards: people who they respected and with whom they could check and boost their confidence. Some were experts who they consulted with to get the appropriate know how and some advanced warning and things to do or contingencies to be prepared for.
Personal responsibility: “If it is to be, it is up to me!” This did not mean that they did not delegate, but it meant that they kept their finger on the pulse. They planned their priorities in such a way that they allocated the time the idea and its completion required.
(For more information on courage as a way of thinking, and in depth coverage of the above variables, visit