Running a business requires grit and determination. In fact, just starting a business is brave because you leave the safety and comfort of a steady job.
Courage is a powerful tool to help you make progress in spite of your fears and uncertainty. There is some overlap between acting courageously and being fearless. On this page I want to define the concept and share some examples so you can practice it in your own life.
What is courage?
Dictionary.com defines it as: “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” But the implication here that I think is problematic is the “without fear” part of this definition.
Let me explain this a little bit more. Most people don't see themselves as being courageous or brave. "That's for super heroes!" we think to ourselves. But acting bravely is not not just for war heroes and adrenaline junkies. It's for the everyday person like you and me.
Nelson Mandela has a great way of making bravery more accessible to us:
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
My own definition includes facing difficulties even when feeling fear. In fact, it’s been my experience that feeling the fear and acting anyway is deeply character building and leads you to a healthier relationship with both courage and fear. Another way of saying this is that we do what we need to in spite of our fears and doubts.
The other side of the coin
The other side of the coin of courage is cowardice. Cowardice is when we become paralysed by our fears. Learning to manage our own fears and not let them control our decisions in life and in business is an important skill to learn. But fear also plays a healthy role as long as it doesn’t paralyse us. Some fear is necessary to help us act courageously but in a considered way. Without fear we don’t pause to consider the consequences of our actions and act rashly, often with difficult consequences.
Why is courage important?
Without it we won’t take the risks needed to start and run a business or learn something new because of our fear of failure. Understanding, evaluating, identifying and taking risks is an ongoing process both in life and business. It can also be useful to separate the results from the act of bravery. Often it’s too easy to be hard on ourselves because we acted bravely but didn’t get the result we wanted. This is a great opportunity to learn from our mistakes and also practice acceptance.
Who dares wins!
I like the British Special Air Service (SAS) motto: Who dares wins. This motto is sometimes amusingly adapted to: “Who cares (who) wins?” A great example of humor reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously.
The inspirational and defiant leader Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying this about courage:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts. If you're going through hell, keep going. Everyone has his day, and some days last longer than others."
What I love about Churchill’s quote is the spirit of persisting despite how tough things get. It highlights the relationship between endurance and bravery and the need for us to keep practicing it over and over again.
Here are some relevant examples from my own business life where I’ve been challenged to act bravely.
Hiring and firing employees
Hiring my first employee was a brave first step. It’s very exciting making new hires and growing a team. But it’s only half of the story. There will come a time when you’ll have to let an employee go for any number of reasons. Hiring is fun! Firing is not.
Taking on business partners
Business partnerships, like marriages, are easier to get into than they are to get out of. It’s my experience that both start with the best intentions. Making the decision to take on business partners requires much thought and reflection. At the same time, deciding not to take on business partners can also be brave!
Saying no to important people, like clients, staff and business partners also requires courage. Remember that your ability to say yes is directly proportionate to the amount of times you say no.
How to practice courage
It’s much easier practicing it if you have a clear idea of where you want to go in life and business. Having a guiding star or clear vision that lights your path will help you more easily choose which challenges you need to lean into and be courageous.
Of course, neither life nor business is that linear; it’s a winding road. The good news is that if you’re courageous while managing your risk you’ll be learning from both your successes and your failures. Developing some humility and a sense of humor will help you get up and dust yourself off when things don’t go as planned.
Need some help practicing courage?
We all need a little help sometimes. The serenity prayer reminds us to accept the things we cannot change while having the courage to change the things we can. It’s so simple when we stop and think about it. The key is to take the time to remember what’s actually important. Using the serenity prayer as part of a routine like daily journaling can be very effective, helping us to keep coming back to what matters right now in this moment.
Being brave in difficult situations will help you to develop your character as a person and as a leader. It’ll also transform your relationship with fear for the better. But it can be hard to figure out when to practice courage and when to be accepting. The serenity prayer could be just the reminder you need.