Why Courage Is The Seed Of Change
Over the past months, we have laid out a working hypothesis for how a business might make change toward becoming a Purposeful Enterprise. We began with the necessary alignment of the company brand with its culture. Then we examined the critical role played by the choices in resource allocation and priority that could together be called strategy. Then we explored how the business must align with the aspirations of its people to “make a difference” rather than aligning the people to the business, and therefore tap into the deep desire of employees to participate in meaningful work.
Next we examined the role of exemplars—the real leaders—who already embody both the strategy and the culture of the organization, and we saw how such embodiment is not technique or methodology that can be practiced like a new discipline but requires a genuine change of heart and mind—what we have called metanoia.
Yet, as we dig further into this essential and intrinsically personal change of heart, we find the core of what it takes to truly change a business. Like twins joined by a shared DNA, we discover courage (the more outgoing twin), and humility (the more introspective partner). These two attributes form the core of any meaningful change towards the Purposeful Enterprise.
A distinct childhood memory of mine is the unmistakable sensation of a coin being quietly pressed into my hand; a treasured family ritual performed by a dear uncle. Just before his departure from an all-too-rare visit to my childhood home, he would often lean down with a twinkle in his eye and deliver into my palm first sixpence, then a shilling, and then—signaling my growing maturity and marking the passage of important birthday milestones—the coveted half-crown.
In pre-decimalised Britain, a half-crown was a virtual king’s ransom that could be converted into a vast haul of sherbet fountains, humbugs and the ultimate treasure—gob-stoppers and aniseed balls—in the sweetie shop at Elms Parade. The aniseed treat began its gustatory journey as one color and, as layer upon layer dissolved, a new color appeared until at last, tooth decaying work nearly complete, was revealed a small brown seed, the aniseed—which was for me the long-anticipated culmination of a most satisfying journey.
In the last post, I introduced the twin virtues that must lie at the heart of any effort to change a more traditional business into a Purposeful Enterprise: Humility and Courage. In this post, we’ll ruminate on the other half of the seed—Courage.
Courage, of course, is the better known and more celebrated of these two attributes. It is certainly the more “attractive” of the two in our post-modern and still highly individualistic age. Like brand, that outward manifestation of a company’s character and identity, courage is more often ascribed than claimed.
Courage is the quality of doing what’s right despite the personal cost, which is a product of conviction. [TWEET THAT!]
Courage does not demand heroics or stirring speeches or violent oppressors (à la William Wallace and other rebellious Scots my heritage may claim). Instead, it is a virtue that insists upon self-awareness, social intelligence, confidence and service to others.
It takes courage to tell the analysts of the capital markets that forward financial guidance and quarterly earnings calls are an unwarranted distraction. It takes courage to tell your boss that further cost rationalization will harm the customer, even though her bonus may well be contingent on the task. It takes courage to declare a Purpose knowing full well that a critical mass of employees will hold you to account if you don’t live up to it. It takes courage to challenge a remarkably skilled employee who is a corrosive influence on other employees and the culture, even though he appears wildly successful on many fronts. It takes courage to set aside a larger portion of a shrinking family budget to buy more sustainably-grown food. It takes courage to put in place legislation that will curb further environmental degradation while incurring the wrath of powerful voices and deep-pocketed lobbies.
Yet, if such actions show courage to the observer, for the one acting courageously, they often seem inevitable, for they are descendants of conviction that the prospect of difficulty or opposition simply cannot sway. As one of my colleagues has so eloquently described, “Chris, there is no going back for me. I have been changed. I can only go forward with this conviction.”
I have often felt, as a management consultant, that the greatest asset I could possibly bring to facilitate change in a client organization was not mine at all, but rather the gut instincts and convictions of my client. I have always believed that my job is not to bring some management technique or fad method, but instead to help my client better understand themselves and their position, to embolden them, and to foster their courage.
Today, we have the kind of businesses that we as consumers and employees have chosen. While none of us will single-handedly counteract some of capitalism’s corrosive power, we can choose not to buy the things that can only be created by exploitation. We can choose not to work for an employer who systematically avoids serving a real social need. We can choose not to implement a myopic policy. We can choose not to cynically pitch an idea that may well be bought but will cause harm elsewhere.
We all have such choices, including preserving artificial wealth instead of pursuing a much greater prize, allowing rationalization to trump positive impact, or leaving things worse off than we found them.
The Purposeful Enterprise—a business that puts profit in service to purpose—will come about because a critical mass of both customers and employees summon the courage to change the business for the better.
The core, this most fascinating and inspiring half of the aniseed at the heart of real organizational change, is not a clever method or tactic or program. Rather, it is a few courageous people who are so deeply convicted of a compelling and noble idea that they simply disregard the consequences.
It has always been so, and it always will be so… if we have enough courage to do our part.
For other posts in the Telosity series, click here.