skip to main content

Courage in Business

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

Atticus Finch/Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Courage in Business

I see a lot of confusion about courage in business these days.

Aristotle called courage the first virtue because it makes all of the other virtues possible.

Think about it: Other essential business concepts like leadership, innovation, and sales wither in the absence of courage. Leadership takes making bold, and often unpopular, decisions—leadership takes courage. Innovation involves creating ground-breaking but tradition-defying ideas—innovation takes courage. Sales require being repeatedly rejected before closing a deal—sales takes courage.

Take away courage, and sales, innovation, and leadership lose their potency.

Contrary to popular belief, courage is a teachable and learnable skill.  Nearly all courageous acts represent one or more of three types of courage:

  • TRY Courage: The courage of initiative and action— making first attempts, pursuing pioneering efforts, and stepping up to the plate.
  • TRUST Courage: The courage of confidence in others— letting go of the need to control situations or outcomes, having faith in people, and being open to direction and change.
  • TELL Courage: The courage of voice— raising difficult issues, providing tough feedback, and sharing unpopular opinions.

The good news is everyone has the capacity for being courageous

Confusion of Courage in Business

The confusion about courage in business centers on risk-taking and decision-making.

Popular literature extolls the courage leaders apply in making tough decisions.

We all know that business leaders are tasked with making decisions, some of which will be unpopular and contain some level of risk.  To assume that business leaders are courageous simply for making decisions serves only to glorify the role of business leaders.

Many leaders make tough and courageous decisions, and for that, they should be commended.  But decision making and risk-taking are the job description of leadership, not courage.  A leaders’ role is to collect information, analyze the situation, gather advice, and proceed based on sound business principles.  Any decisions made without those steps are foolish, not courageous.

Courageous leadership is making decisions based on good business principles that still may not be popular or without significant risk.

The Bible

The Bible abounds with stories of courage.

One of the Hebrew words translated “courage” means “to show oneself strong.” It is the biblical definition of courage we should follow in business.

Moses, for example, was courageous when he confronted the Pharaoh of Egypt and commanded him to let God’s people go.  He met with the Pharaoh fully armed with good data, sound advice, and an actionable plan, just like we in business should.  He had God’s support and confidence.  He also knew the power difference between the common man and the Pharaoh was offset since he had God in his corner.

Despite these advantages, Moses still needed courage because of Moses’s inexperience in negotiating with the likes of the Pharaoh.  He was terrified.  Also, the Pharaoh increased the workload on the Israelites and blamed Moses, which set the same people Moses was trying to save against him.  He was not popular anywhere.

Yet his courage, coming from God, led him to prevail and lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land.

His courage was not about being reckless or insensitive.  His courage came from a relationship with God that told him the right thing to do and how to proceed.

Making decisions is not synonymous with courage.  Making reckless decisions is definitely not representative of courage.  

Courage is employing sound business principles, and make a solid business decision despite its popularity and its level of risk.  Such choices require insight, confidence, and faith in God-given talents, much like Moses had, to following through.