Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Do You Have a Spineless Career?

When was the last time you did something courageous at work?

I'm not talking about cleaning out the office fridge (although that does take gumption) or trying a new font on your report. I'm talking about stepping out of your comfort zone, doing something that made your palms sweat or your knees quake.

You may be wondering why in the world you would do something scary at work, when just being at work these days is frightening enough. But recently I interviewed someone who knows a thing or two about stepping into the abyss, and I've been thinking about career courage ever since.

Bill Treasurer is a workplace courage expert, but he's also a former member of the U.S. High Diving Team, where he often performed as the fire-diving superhero "Captain Inferno." His new book, "Courage Goes to Work," is all about -- wait for it -- courage at work.

Of course, Treasurer wrote his book before this current economic crisis, but what he has to say may be even more relevant now. Because while you may feel like just playing it safe and keeping your head down, you need to put yourself in scarier situations now more than ever.

"Courage in my mind is activated by challenging times," Treasurer says. "Courage doesn't mean being fearless, it means carrying on despite our fear."

So, even though you might be afraid to put your hand up and suggest new or innovative or even outrageous ideas at work, Treasurer says now is the time to do it.

"Right now, employers really need employees to really embrace change. They need those new ideas to help save money. They need to find new opportunities. This is exactly the right time to raise your hand."

Or, step out on a stage. That means that despite your tendency to want to puke when addressing more than five people at a time, you go ahead and give that speech or presentation to hundreds or people. Or, you volunteer for that new project even though it's out of your comfort zone. Maybe it even means you accept that new job for less money because you'll be doing something totally different than what you've done for the last decade.

"Courage means that you move forward through your fear. You voice is shaking or palms are sweating because it means you're moving into the courage zone," he says.

At the same time, the greatest acts of courage at work can come from some unexpected places.

"Courage of voice is the least common," Treasurer says. "It's when you raise your hand and say you're overwhelmed and you need help. Or, when you admit to a mistake and apologize for it."

So, the next time your stomach roils and your palms become damp at just the thought of doing something at work, take heart from these words voiced by a man who knows a thing or two about diving off that cliff:

"At the end of the day when we look back, where we are most proud of ourselves -- where we see that we were better us -- is when we've met the challenge," Treasurer says.

"Just trust yourself."

Do enough people show courage in the workplace today? Why or why not?


David Bullock said...

With the econmony in great flux, I speculate that most people are not willing to take risks. The media is reporting on layoffs, stock market declines and foreclosures.

This puts people into a panic and causes "spineless" behavior.

When obligation overpowers the cost return of risk, people tend to stay put and be quiet.

I agree with you assessment. The question then becomes - when is it the right to to live a meaningful life?

Unknown said...

The best story I can offer is the time I put together what I thought was an excellent proposal for our company to get involved in MQA. Our CEO read it and said, "Mike's really passionate about this stuff. Maybe he should go to work for somebody who shares his interest."

I managed to save my job, but it was touch and go for a while.

I would still recommend taking calculated chances on the job. If your company doesn't appreciate your courage, there's someone else out there who will.

Anita said...

I like the way you pose the question about a "meaningful life." I think it's much easier to deal with the consequences of our actions when we feel like we at least tried, rather than trying to live with the consequences of just doing nothing.
Thanks for posting.

Anita said...

If that isn't the sign of a gutless, spineless boss, I don't know what is. And I've worked for a couple of those myself. I always held on long enough to get my resume together and get out of there.
You make an excellent point: We also MUST have leaders who are courageous.
Thanks for the story.

Anonymous said...

Good discussion! It's true that displaying courage can only go so far in some businesses. If you work for an employer that openly encourages innovation from its employees -- no matter the state of the company or economy -- take the opportunity to show them what you've got.

And if they don't appreciate it (sorry about your experience, mikeb), find a place that will. Any workplace that doesn't foster a climate of creativity and innovation -- and, by extension, courage -- today is only shooting itself in both feet.

Anita said...

I think what is becoming clear (at least I hope it is), is that competition has driven the market to offer about the same prices to customers for the products they desire. So, what's going to help a company survive -- and thrive? That's going to be innovation and superior customer service. That comes from the employees -- they will be the ones to make the difference. Bosses who don't understand that may find themselves in the unemployment line.
Thanks for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I'm about to go outside my comfort zone and look for a videographer to make a video of my Scarf Initiative project which is going on display at a local artshop
next month! Yikes! Trust me when I say this is going to require courage!

Anita said...

Yes, but at the same time I would say you stepped out of your comfort zone more than a year ago when you launched your blog. You've already shown great courage!