Company Culture

The 7 Leadership Building Blocks for Courageous Workplaces

Slow down, and focus on insight and personal courage.
The 7 Leadership Building Blocks for Courageous Workplaces
Image credit: Caiaimage/Sam Edwards | Getty Images
Guest Writer
CEO of Angela Kambouris Consultancy
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In a business world, most people want to rise to the occasion and get ahead. Yet it is rare to find those who are truly courageous. History has shown that when people have stepped up, taken risks and lead, even when things are precarious, they generally prevail.

Aristotle said that courage is the first virtue because it makes all the other virtues possible. Courage is the lifeblood of leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation. Take away courage, and they all lose their potency. Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, Xerox’s Anne Mulcahy, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Alibaba’s Jack Ma are part of the courage cohort who, as leaders, made courageous decisions to build great global companies. When everyone shows up to work each day with more courage, business wins.

Related: How to Overcome Obstacles

In business, you often see a "work hard, work longer and take on more" attitude, but the paradox of courage requires us to slow down and reflect. To step back and gain perspective. Courage isn’t so much about what one does as who one is. Leaders must turn their attention inward and reassess the beliefs, behaviors and assumptions that keep businesses stuck in outdated modes of operation.

In today’s digital world, allowing oneself to slow down and reflect on business requires embracing courage. When you turn your attention inward, you can find inner sources of energy, insight and personal courage.

The human ego insists on doing whatever it thinks is necessary to maintain control, so business leaders naturally expend their energies on filling up their calendars with things to do. In return, they do not have time to quietly reflect. Check your ego at the door, slow down, and create an opportunity to examine the path forward to foster a better understanding of where a business is headed.

Let me share with you seven principles that business leaders can implement to create courageous workplaces, where both people and business flourish.

1. Fast and furious change dictates most workplaces.

Today’s workplaces need a mindset shift to be relevant in the future. Leaders need to leave change management theories in the past and focus on the development of an employee’s future potential.

Rather than massaging the message when delivering to staff to get buy-in or apologizing profusely for the constant change, your investment as a leader should be focusing on business readiness -- getting people confident in the now and ready for what’s next.

Pain will often come, not from the changes, but from your resistance to those changes. By shifting mindsets, opportunities are created for both people and business to thrive.

2. A state of being or suffering -- your choice.

When leaders believe that change is hard, you will often notice a leadership style where they attempt to take the suffering out of change. What results is leaders reinforcing that change causes suffering. By attempting to remove discomfort that comes with learning something new, a passive attitude is nurtured and doesn’t allow for people to develop new skills to adapt and progress. People choose suffering over succeeding.

Related: Learning to Deal With Change Faster is Key to Being More Resilient at Work

When seeking to make change manageable, too many leaders take it upon themselves to develop inspired speeches, invest energy into rolling-out the perfect process and spell out the communication channels. Ultimately, leaders reinforce a culture of learned helplessness.

3. Breakthrough the illusion.

How many times have you heard people espouse that change is painful, exhausting, unnecessary, hard and a waste of time. Change will only be hard for the people who are not ready. When your thinking is embedded in having to have a perfect set of circumstances before change can occur, an illusion is created. Today, workplaces require a space for change being least disruptive to business.

Alaska Airlines lead a courageous charge by developing a comprehensive training program with an explicit goal of helping frontline staff internalize its service standards. The company’s top executives attended the training to highlights its importance. As a result, in 2017, Alaska Airlines earned J.D.Power’s highest customer satisfaction ranking among traditional airlines, continued to be positioned as a low-cost leader and ranked at the top of the biggest 15 U.S. airlines in fuel efficiency.

4. Stop trying to coax people with change.

How many times have you witnessed the majority being held hostage to the one person who wanted their demands met before they would get on board? In business, once you have identified the people who are willing, stop trying to coax those who aren’t. They will either figure it out and jump in or they won’t. Full commitment and accountability are needed for the privilege of staying with the organization. There is no other option.

5. Call to action is a shared responsibility.

Shared responsibility requires self-reflection. The leader articulates the expectation that people will move beyond their personal preferences to deliver a business case for change. The leader’s role is to explain deliverables and to encourage people to take responsibility for building the skills and competencies they need now and to help them be ready for what’s next.

6. Internal disruptors.

Leaders should not be the main drivers of change. Employees are the ones closest to the marketplace. They are invaluable resources for helping the business know what’s next. Drivers of change lead the situation and constantly scan the landscape, becoming internal disruptors. They talk about how to make change work, and they act by innovating, removing barriers with a constant vision to the future.  

Netflix expects their staff to exercise freedom as part of their responsibility to the organization. Their company culture promotes employees to embody courage by using their own judgment within the strategic priorities, to communicate openly and to argue their points of difference.

Related: Leading Your Company Forward in These Tumultuous Times

7. Buy-in is not an option.

Buy-in cannot be bought, ordered or be part of an upsell. Buy-in is a core workplace responsibility. It is how people show up. Every time leaders attempt to create perfect situations to earn it or use money to purchase buy-in, the ego is being fed, entitlement is running wild, and the victim mindset is running the show. The leader’s role is to discover those who have chosen to buy-in -- the willing -- and then work with them to create extraordinary results. Like accountability and engagement, it’s a choice.

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