Whether you're in industry startup mode or at the peak of your powers, having professional courage is fundamentally critical to how you do business. A recent report by Edelman found that individuals who work for high-trust companies — where employees are encouraged to be courageous — were 78% more engaged, and 83% more committed than those who work for low-trust organizations. Therefore, finding the right amount of well-placed bravery and determination can not only influence your own career advancement, but that of your employees and clients, too.
An expert on leadership and success in business, John Amaechi OBE is a respected organizational psychologist, a best-selling New York Times author, public speaker, executive coach, and the founder of APS Intelligence. He recently sat in conversation with Oliver Wyman CEO Nick Studer to discuss standing behind values — particularly bravery — and how to feel empowered to take positive action in the workplace. Here, we share five of John’s key insights:
John Amaechi OBE joined Oliver Wyman CEO, Nick Studer, to dicuss key learnings on workplace bravery
Show through action, not words
“You can’t just talk about values — you must act upon them, too. A good example is from when I was a child. One day I missed out on doing my chores. I just didn't do them. When my mother came home and saw the jobs weren’t done, I tried to give her a cuddle and tell her I loved her. Her response? ‘If you love me, you’d have vacuumed the landing.’ So, while you can talk about values, they really need to emanate from you. It’s important for people to see and experience them.”
Often being brave isn’t the easy option
“Being brave is doing something that others tell you is impossible, or at the very least improbable. Being brave is experiencing discomfort and recognizing that it is a sign of progress — you're heading in the right direction. Sometimes, being brave is doing what is not preferred by you, but you do it because you know that it is better for the whole. Often leaders can struggle with this latter notion. They get senior and think they can do everything the way they want to. But being brave is also about flexing a little to enable those more junior to thrive.”
Good leaders lead by example
“A good leader encourages their team to reach out when they notice something wrong — including the leader’s own actions. And when they do speak up, the leader should reward them. For example, the boss could say: ‘I want to thank this person because they reminded me that I didn’t intervene when I should have, and I’m going to commit to that moving forward.’ Acknowledging the mistake and rewarding the individual for pointing it out means the whole team is now vigilant for moments to be brave.”
Balance being brave with being respectful
“Feedback should allow for development, progress, and resolution of a challenge. That's the only context that feedback should be given in. If it doesn't do those things, it is merely commentary. It's a rudeness. If you think there are more efficient ways to do something, then be brave and speak up but be respectful. It is about the tone and the intentionality of it. It shouldn’t be about trying to show someone up, making them look stupid to make you look clever. Likewise, the person being informed of an alternative solution should be willing to have a discussion. If the idea turns out not to be effective, communicate the reason clearly and respectfully. There shouldn't be a backlash.”
“People will always be in an environment where they should’ve stepped up but didn’t. When the situation involves not stepping in to help someone, that person will feel betrayed. Once this happens you can’t go back, but you can make sure it’s not repeated, and acknowledge that you screwed up. Say something like: ‘I recognize that I made a mistake in that meeting. I saw it in the moment, and I felt awkward, and I chose not to act. I want to apologize for that. I wasn't being brave, and I want to commit to you that I’ll intervene in the future.’
“Don't be the person who doesn’t stand up but then afterwards says: ‘Oh, that was terrible what happened to you in that meeting.’ That doesn't help. All it does is reinforce the idea that you saw something bad and chose not to act because it was inconvenient, and now you're seeking to feel better. If you're going to interact with victims of incivility, you must do so from the perspective of what you are going to do in the future to stop that from happening.”
Ultimately, the key to achieving personal and business success is showing grit, taking calculated risks, and persevering in the face of fear. When it comes to leading with values, being brave (regardless of the scenario) will offer greater reward and will enable you to lead in an age of acceleration.