The most important issues in a business sometimes, are the things we can’t see. Leaders deal with deadlines, team conflict, maintaining fluid service, trying not to compromise quality of product even with rising costs and so on. The one element that doesn’t get too much attention and is a far more insidious disease that spreads throughout organizations is – fear. Specifically, fear of loss.

I’ve personally witnessed how the threat of not meeting a budget or deadline drove employees to put up walls. The fear of missing the mark, the bonus or even losing their job froze them and led to decreased motivation and performance. Fear of failing can drive some employees to create barriers. You may see that one employee continue to perform in their contained environment, but you may not see the direct effect on other people in the same organization. These barriers could cause a break in what should be a fluid working environment. And, if not handled properly, it may destroy the company from the inside out.

So how can you conquer these challenges? The only way is to instill a culture of courage.

In fear-based companies, employees learn that power stays at the top and is unattainable, and that the only way to survive is to obey direction without question. Leaders must convey a message of openness and access all levels to give employees the encouragement, energy, and support to try new things and to focus on the greater good of the overall organization.




Research has shown that there are two types of courage that need to be applied within an organization: vital courage and moral courage. Vital courage is the “inspiration for actions that improve one’s lot in life or that ultimately promote survival.” Moral courage is “the authentic expression of one’s beliefs or values in pursuit of justice or the common good despite power differentials, dissent, disapproval, or rejection.” Vital courage is focused on survival, therefore what is best for the employee, moral courage is focused on thoughts and ideas, therefore what is best for the organization.

Examples of vital courage: working an extra shift, writing a new proposal, or taking night courses to qualify for a raise. Beware - you are encouraged to think of the greater good here, and not be self-serving.

Examples of moral courage: employee takes a risk or goes the extra mile, the clerk who stops what he’s doing to help an elderly customer around the store, the employee who jumps in to help a coworker.



All too often, organizations move people into positions without regard for their individual talents. In fact, in many companies, the only way up is through a management role, which penalizes those who are more talented as individual contributors than as managers. They’re taken out of roles they are well-suited for and given roles in which they’re weak.

Invest in experts who can properly qualify if the people you have are in their rightful positions and exerting their highest and best use. You won’t be sorry.



As mentioned earlier, employee engagement is strongly linked to business performance. Engaged workers generate more profit, create stronger customer relationships, have fewer safety incidents, are less likely to quit, and are more productive than disengaged workers. Engagement provides the energy that fuels a workplace.

When barriers are removed and employees have greater freedom, companies can effectively and promptly address these local issues. It’s much easier to bring an organization to a consistent level of high engagement once bureaucracy has been tamed.

Engaged employees are good for business - businesses see an increase in sales, lower turnover, better customer relationships, and higher market share. Organizations will find that engaged employees are a prerequisite for courage and success. Once people are willing, able, and allowed to be courageous, the next step is to reward them for their courageous behavior.



When change occurs in an organization, some will immediately adopt the new system, but others will wait and see. Both responses are sensible. To get more people to try things the new way and embrace change, reward the brave few who take the first tentative steps.

The reward could be a note from a manager, a pat on the back, or a story told at a department meeting. Whatever the vehicle, leaders should reinforce and celebrate courageous behavior. And the reward should be meaningful to the person you are rewarding and clearly linked to the types of new behaviors you are seeking.



In the end, by focusing on aligning moral and vital courage; matching responsibilities with strengths; engaging employees; rewarding courageous behavior; and aggressively rooting out parochialism, territorialism, and empire building, a company will have almost everything it needs to create a culture of courage.

Need help building a culture of courage?

Connect with me and let’s do it together.


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