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Brain circuits

Exercises to help you find your courage

Published 10 January 2023 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

It takes courage to be a leader. You need to be brave to make tough choices, foster inclusion, solve problems, and be a secure base for your team members so they can shine. Many people equate courage with an extraordinary act of bravery, but much of what we do every day takes courage. Navigating the turbulent times we live in requires the agility to shift the way we think, work and live. But agility isn’t enough, and managing change takes courage. The good news is this isn’t an innate quality only available to some – it’s a skill that can be learned.

The exercise.

First, consider your activities as an executive. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How do you feel about speaking up at meetings, regardless of the hierarchy?
  • How do you feel suggesting changes of direction to your teammates?
  • What about speaking in public?
  • How do feel managing challenging stakeholders?
  • Are you able to ask for a raise or promotion?

The chances are some of these scenarios make you uncomfortable. Each of these situations requires courage. The next time you find yourself feeling anxious in one of these instances, try the following to enhance your courage:

  1. When you feel apprehensive about an action, address your mindset.

Focus on the positive outcomes that could come from the action you feel apprehensive about. Doing so, can interrupt the negativity bias by noticing what is possible and positive from this situation. Addressing our mindset can counterbalance fear.

  1. Name and reframe your feelings.

Have you ever found yourself anxious and told yourself (or had someone else tell you) you need to calm down? This rarely works. However, research has shown that reframing anxiety as excitement can be helpful because excitement is in a similar domain to anxiety but is a positive emotion that encourages us to embrace risks and take action.

  1. Change your perspective.

If you feel something is threatening, reframing it as a challenge can make it easier to address. If you consciously practice this, you can considerably alter the way you approach life.

  1. Create a visible cue to focus on courage.

A visible reminder – be it a quote or image – is a helpful way to remind ourselves and our teams that courage is an invitation for growth and possibility. We find ‘courage cards’ are useful reminders to step into courageous action. Two examples are below. If you are working with a team, you could ask them to share what courage means to them and what inspires them to reframe and take action.

Just like you head to the gym to exercise your muscles, you can exercise your courage by making it part of your daily practice and mindset. Small steps on a regular basis can lead to big changes.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak.

Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

-Winston Churchill

Authors

Cairns-Lee_Heather

Heather Cairns-Lee

Adjunct Professor of Leadership at IMD

Heather Cairns-Lee is Adjunct Professor of Leadership and a member of IMD’s Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Council. She also President of Business Professional Women Lake Geneva, where she is an advocate for gender equity.

John Weeks

John R. Weeks

Professor of Leadership at IMD

IMD professor John R Weeks helps leaders understand how they can manage themselves to lead others more effectively and to have a positive and intentional impact on the culture in their part of their organization. Before joining IMD in 2007, he spent 11 years at INSEAD, France, where he was nominated three times as Best Teacher. An American who has lived on three continents, he served on the Board of Directors of LEO Pharma, and he has worked with clients in Europe, the Americas and Asia.

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