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Courage as a Skill

A division vice president blows the whistle on corruption at the highest levels of his company. A young manager refuses to work on her boss’s pet project because she fears it will discredit the organization.

A CEO urges his board, despite push back from powerful, hostile members, to invest in environmentally sustainable technology. What is behind such high-risk, often courageous acts?

Courage in business, the author has found, seldom resembles the heroic impulsiveness that sometimes surfaces in life-or-death situations. Rather, it is a special kind of calculated risk taking, learned and refined over time. Taking an intelligent gamble requires an understanding of what she calls the “courage calculation”: six discrete decision-making processes that make success more likely while averting rash or unproductive behavior. These include setting attainable goals, tipping the power balance in your favor, weighing risks against benefits, and developing contingency plans.

Goals may be organizational or personal. Tania Modic had both types in mind when, as a young bank manager, she overstepped her role by traveling to New York—on vacation time and on her own money—to revitalize some accounts that her senior colleagues had allowed to languish. Her high-risk maneuver benefited the bank and gained her a promotion.

Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy weighed the risks and benefits before deciding to report a fellow officer who had plagiarized a research paper at a professional army school. In her difficult courage calculation, loyalty to army standards proved stronger than the potential discomfort and embarrassment of “snitching” on a fellow officer.

When the skills behind courageous decision making align with a personal, organizational, or societal philosophy, managers are empowered to make bold moves that lead to success for their companies and their careers.

January 2017, Harvard Business Review

Read the full article at: Harvard Business Review

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