What does it really mean to be a courageous organisation?

By Sam Eaton of MindAbility Consultancy I’ve been running the ‘Brainstorm in a teacup’ sessions for some time to create lively debate, a virtual roundtable forum where people can share ideas and feel that they are in a safe space through the pandemic. One of the topics we have discussed, has been about what a courageous organisation looks like right now.

It’s a massive topic – one that had me thinking about it for days and brought up so many questions. When we say courageous organisations, from whose perspective should we view this? A business owner using their own money will feel differently to an investor-backed CEO running an organisation, simply because one is potentially using their own money and has their family or personal commitments to think about which is highly emotive. Whilst the other is having to manage stakeholders and simultaneously look after their team. Neither scenario is easy, neither leader has it easier than the other, simply different perspectives. How will a mid-manager answer this question versus a frontline worker?  What’s important for them?

Then the next round of questions entered my mind, what does ‘courageous’ mean? It will mean different things to different organisations. Having difficult shareholder conversations to explain that there will be minimal ROI for the next three to five years to protect the people capital in the business and thereafter there will be significant returns. Being prepared for some investors to walk away – and having the courage to still feel positive in that scenario.

Facing the reality of having to ‘let people go’. Which roles are no longer required and how can anyone know that in such unchartered waters any decision made now, will be the right one in a year's time?

None of us know, but trying to see the bigger picture and carving our own new world will help. I read a fascinating book recently, “Lead from the Future” by Mark W Johnson and Josh Suskewicz and in it they talk about Future-back thinking:

“Thomas Edison’s approach to electric lighting was systemic. Contrary to popular myth, he didn’t invent the incandescent light bulb. The great English chemist Humprhy Davy laid the groundwork for it in 1809, with other inventions to follow. Edison didn’t start by asking how he could solve the technical problem of making a better lightbulb; that came later. Instead, he asked how he could get consumers to switch from kerosene to electricity. He understood that despite the many advantages of electric light, it would replace kerosene only if it had its own economically competitive network.”

Maybe we are not so different after all, we just need to find the courage to forge our own visions – and then do something about it to turn it into reality.

Here’s the thing, courage is something that’s in all of us. Can we truly look in the mirror each morning and know that we’ve done the best possible job, took the best possible action – or not, based on the information we have available to us? Is that enough?

The dictionary definition of courage is “the confidence to act in accordance with one’s beliefs”.

Courage is also about being able to make a change and believe in the change that’s being made. Accountability if you will. A global pandemic and the issue we need to address around race is a big part of such decision making. It’s something I want to address briefly as it’s important.

We need to recognise, address and deal with our biases. Science tells us that we all have biases, the fundamental point is that we all need to recognise, acknowledge, and play our own respective part in making it better. In having the courage to do so. Whilst I’m on this point, the most powerful video I have watched in a long time demonstrates the challenges faced by less privileged children and the advantages given to those who are more fortunate, take a look at ‘Life of privilege explained in $100 race’ – the coach's profound message is one that I share when and wherever I can.

Each and every one of us needs courage; each and every one of us has responsibilities for ourselves and for others. Each and every one of us plays an important role on this planet, and with our individual courage we can collectively build the courage needed for our families, our friends, our organisations to adapt and flex in the world that is ahead of us. We need to stand by our beliefs and more importantly, the old saying, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” comes to mind, because sometimes we fail, and you need a mindset that can accept the possibility of failure but only in the context that failure will renew your determination to succeed.

My final question is: what does a courageous organisation look like to you?