When You Are Faced With Difficult Business Decisions, Remember: The Courage to Risk Your Life Is Bigger Than Courage in Business
(But Which Is More Important…?)
As business leaders, you impact the lives of millions: your customers or employees, and their extended families and community members. If you have fear of making decisions, you are not alone. What will set you apart is recognizing that fear and taking action anyway.
And let’s put this in perspective – you’re not risking your life to save a baby from a wild beast. You’re making strategic decisions about your company. I promise you: you won’t get eaten.
Even so, the courage to risk for a business leader is absolutely critical. Courage is a success attribute where, if you have it, everything becomes easier because you get into action. And, nothing can happen before you take action.
Let’s look at the opposite – the absence of courage. You’re paralyzed by the difficult business decisions in front of you, so you sit back and do nothing. You get stuck. You don’t do what you’re supposed to be doing. Projects are delayed. Everyone on your team is waiting for you and wondering what’s going on and what they should do next. Your whole business screeches to a halt.
Two types of courage
When talking about courage, there are two types I want to reference: obvious courage and invisible courage.
Obvious courage actions are those that other people readily notice. When people observe these actions, they would instantly recognize that there was a little more than normal behavior at play. There was an element of fear or perceived danger in the action. Maybe your life was at stake.
Invisible courage actions are those that appear to be normal actions, but there is a deeper layer of decision to manage some innate fear of some unseen risk. The level of courage required is indistinguishable to the casual observer. It would take a trained eye or someone familiar with the details of the situation to recognize that there was a risk in the first place, and only then would the courage to risk be evident.
Let’s list out some obvious examples of obvious courage. Things like skydiving and bungee jumping make the list because you are in a relatively safe place, and then you leap to what would be your death unless you have trustworthy gear. My friends and I made a few static line skydive jumps in college, and the legal waiver we had to sign had wording in bold, capital letters that say, “I UNDERSTAND THAT THIS CAN CAUSE DEATH”. If what you are about to do carries a warning like that, then you’re looking at an action that requires obvious courage.
I just read an article about the world’s largest swing, called the Big Rush. It’s in a stadium built in Durban, South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. This swing is 288 feet up in the rafters, with an arc of over 700 feet. After climbing an incredibly steep set of stairs and getting into your safety gear, you jump off and accelerate to 70 miles per hour for a thrilling ride! Of course, I had to find a video about it too, and my adrenaline was pumping just watching! Many elements of the Big Rush require obvious courage.
We recently remembered the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. The courage of those soldiers who accepted that mission to storm the beaches in Normandy, France did so in the face of unbelievable odds. They put a higher purpose and personal sacrifice above their own safety and changed the course of history with their bravery. That took obvious courage.
Invisible courage requires the nerve to make difficult decisions. Often, the fear is not due to an enemy firing bullets at you, a wild animal who wants to eat you, or facing the ground below as you are about to jump. Rather, the source of your fear is within you. This could come from past experience of failure or of stories of someone else’s failure that hit too close to home.
Maybe the little voice in your head is warning you of all the bad things that could happen if the actions you are considering taking don’t work out the way that you want. Your unconscious mind creates a doomsday experience that fills you with doubt and causes inaction.
The moment of invisible courage is when you conjure a little bit of daring to create the force required to break thru your inertia so you can get into motion. You realize that your made-up story of doom isn’t real, or you decide not to care and you commit fully and completely to the actions required.
Think of the common acronym for FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. Even though many of these fears are made up, we still act as if the worst will happen.
Consider the list of biggest fears. (I grabbed this from https://www.learning-mind.com/top-10-most-common-human-fears-and-phobias/.) Let’s just look at the top three:
- Fear of loneliness
- Fear of death
- Social phobia / fear of public speaking or agoraphobia / fear of open spaces
What is behind these fears is the desire to be loved or happy and our perceptions of what will interfere with that love or happiness. As an example of what your unconscious mind may say: “if I fail, people won’t like me and I’ll be alone…” Sounds crazy when it’s spelled out that way, but your mind is just trying to protect you.
Additionally, the layers behind fear of public speaking or of open spaces could be that you might appear incompetent or stupid. So, the safer thing is not to take the risk and avoid the decision (to speak to a large audience).
Here you are, about to walk out on stage and all of a sudden, you’re paralyzed, you don’t remember what you wanted to say, or all you could see is all of those faces looking back at you. And then what happens?
Invisible courage is you recognizing your inner strength, that the fears are made up, that you have practiced and prepared, and that “You’ve got this!” You walk onto the platform, grab the microphone, and deliver an amazing presentation. You were not rejected or booed off stage. You survived the risk you took, and now your confidence increases.
What about rejection, in all its uncomfortable forms?
Think about prom season, and a 17-year old asking someone to prom. Or you asking someone out on a date, or asking someone to marry you. What about in the business setting? Asking that prospect for the sale. What about asking someone that you’ve been working with to commit in writing with a contract? You take your fear of rejection, then you tie some measure of self-worth to their response, and you’ve created this story of extreme risk to asking, before you take any action. Yikes!
By the way, “NO” is just a two -letter word. Rather than hearing rejection in a way that negatively impacts your self-esteem, choose to decide that their yes or no decision doesn’t have anything to do with you, but with them. In fact, for a lot of sales trainings, “NO” is interpreted and defined as, “Not right now, but please come back and ask again later (because I probably will say “yes” then).”
What if “NO” was to actually mean “Next” – just move onto the next person in line? Just consider, “Who else wants what I’m offering?”
There are lots of ways that you can work through tough times when your mind is causing fear. But it’s the invisible courage to take the next step, to make the phone call, to step in front of the audience, to ask the girl to dinner, or whatever the case might be.
Courage Tips for Business Leaders
Unless you’re a character in a Hollywood thriller like a James Bond or Avengers movie, courage in business is more often the invisible type. Here is a list of how to make courageous decisions in business.
1. Align with your core values
Difficult business decisions stare you in the face every day. Your invisible courage will come from knowing your core values and your bigger purpose. Act with high integrity, and trust in your instincts.
If you know that your decision aligns with your values, your purpose, and the bigger mission, then you’re safe. If you have a good sense of the bigger picture and of what is right, then you’re making a good decision.
2. Remember, a good decision isn’t always a popular decision
Here’s the kicker, a lot of times the right thing to do may not be the popular thing to do.
It clearly takes invisible courage to make an unpopular decision, like deciding to reduce your employee base and lay people off, even when that action is one that will save the company (and avoid everyone losing their jobs). Yes, people will judge you and challenge you. Remember, they don’t have access to all the information that you have. And, in the long term, the decision should play out to be a more obvious success than it might upon first impression.
3. Know when to ask for help
Even though very few people will argue with the statement that “success is a team support,” or the statement that “with the right help, you can get results more quickly,” some people still try to do it all themselves.
I think of times in the past when my kids were younger. I saw my son struggling with something and offered help only to hear, “I can do it myself!” For many of you and your team, you still have this attitude running some of your decisions.
Here’s a challenge for you – if you want your team to accept the help you offer them, ask yourself: do you also seek help from others, or do you project an attitude of, “I can do it myself!”
Remember, you are modeling behaviors and your team will observe you, your decisions, and your actions.
Surround yourself with visible advisors, and allow your team members to interact with them. Then, encourage them to ask for help as you challenge them to accomplish their stretch goals.
4. Go for speed
Very little action can take place until you make a decision. Then the wheels can be set in motion and your team can execute your plan. Even if you are super conservative and take your time to make decisions, the instant that you know in your heart that a decision is the right thing to do, launch into action-mode right away. Communicate your rationale if you must, as it will help with the buy-in from your team. (We’re big on change management, and this is important.)
Recognize the leverage you have by getting your extended team lined up and figure out how to get them moving for you. The immediate moment you decide on a course of action, turn that in to reality as quickly as you can.
5. Have fun – it’s just a game!
Let’s take the pressure off. What would you do if you were assured that there was no downside? What if you simply could not lose, that you were guaranteed to win?
Life is just a game. You’re a player and you’re experimenting with different strategies through all the phases of life, including your role as a business leader.
Some strategies will work better than others, but you are always learning and can try again with the wisdom you have gained.
If you could experience life this way and eliminate the fears you fabricate from stories of doom and gloom, you will find it’s easier to make difficult decisions.
Have the courage to be a courageous leader
Think about how you can become just a little more courageous today. That alone takes courage. Courage can be a lot of different things, such as coming to the understanding that something different needs to take place. Or taking a step outside of your comfort zone. Or doing the extra work, asking for help, or jumping in fully to see what happens.
You are probably realizing that you have the courage to make really good, high integrity decisions. To be confident, even when your decisions are not popular. You can bust through your fears, whatever they might be. We’re not just talking about jumping out of an airplane but we’re talking about the fear of getting in front of people, the fear of overcoming that inner voice of self-doubt.
All of these things combined are what courage is. As a business leader, you remember it’s up to you to teach your team to be courageous. They will follow your lead.
So, what are the actions that you haven’t been taking that you know you should take? Just go do it today. Get out there. Be a courageous leader!
About the Author: Pete Winiarski
Peter D. Winiarski is the founder and CEO of Win Enterprises, LLC. He is a speaker and the author or contributing author of seven Amazon best-selling books on business transformation, consulting, leadership, and goal achievement.
His company, Win Enterprises, LLC, helps business leaders transform their results for themselves and their companies. The Win team of resources are experts in business transformation, organizational culture, leadership, and goal achievement, and are highly skilled consultants and executive mentors.
Win’s clients experience fast results, lasting change, and huge ROI working with Pete’s team.