Courage, you've had it all along
[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Sean McDonald of MOR Associates and Charlotte Souffront-Garcia, Program Director with Information Technology Services at Florida State University. They may be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.]
I got off the phone with Charlotte a few weeks ago and I could not stop thinking about her closing comment, “I am okay now with courage being my thing”. It was flat-out inspiring. It was inspiring because of the leadership journey Charlotte had been on the prior 18 months, one I was lucky enough to have a small window view into through the 2020 MOR Leaders Program experience, and frankly, we just all need a dose of courage these days.
When I met Charlotte in February 2020, she was reserved, and to her own admission was not comfortable speaking in front of the group. After hearing her closing line in our recent conversation, the pull to reach back out to her, to learn more, got louder in my head each day. I knew there was something in Charlotte’s story that we would all benefit from, and I knew she’d be willing to share.
The following includes excerpts from our follow up conversation as well as outputs from our great collaborative exploration about practicing courage.
SM: Why is courage important, especially now?
CSG: Courage is about pushing through discomfort. This pandemic has reminded us at every turn about discomfort and given us so many opportunities to practice courage. Keeping each other safe, standing up for our values, regardless of push back, have called on us for courage.
For me, courage is about being brave and doing what is right, and that’s not always easy. In fact, I put a sign in my living room with the words, “Do what is right, not what is easy,” to remind myself daily and keep it top of mind.
SM: When did that sign go up?
CSG: The sign went up last fall on my birthday. I made it with a friend of mine. I tell my kids you have to be brave and stand up for others. You can’t just take a back seat.
SM: In the 18 months we’ve known each other, I’ve seen a change in you. Somewhere along the way, it seems to me, you chose courage. What happened?
CSG: You are right. I have changed! Having the platform with the MOR Leaders Program was the catalyst that empowered me to find my voice, and I took full advantage of it. The various program elements were useful in this journey. (Pause, digging deeper into thought.) I had wondered if courage had always been my thing and I just didn’t recognize it. It was hidden in plain sight! (Insert here Sean’s jaw dropping in complete inspiration of how profound that statement was.)
In reflecting on my leadership journey, the leadership lessons I have learned along the way, those that have guided me, this stood out to me most: each point took courage to get to the next one. Saying no. Highs and lows. At times I felt defeated and needed to fight to come back out. My peers in my MOR cohort were extremely supportive and encouraging. The value of having people in your corner, as sounding boards and supporters, is an important part of this story. So I had courage all along, the reflection, awareness, and intentionality supported bringing it more into focus. It is who I am.
As Charlotte and I continued the conversation we talked about obstacles to practicing courage. These obstacles are familiar to many of us: fear of failure, imposter syndrome, navigating the environments we operate in, sources of organizational power, and the link to confidence. The balance of our conversation focused on what, from this story and beyond, could we offer to you in this Tuesday Reading about ways to step forward, building support and resilience toward even just being able to test the edges of what we can do with courage.
Reflect and Recognize – Look back, recall the steps along the way where you have practiced courage. Capture those somewhere, a ‘courage journal.’ Build on the list over time. These reminders, like for Charlotte, will surface that you had it all along! Let’s say it together: “courage is my thing!”
Scenario Plan and Believe in Self – Adopting the mindset from the reflection and recognition practice above gets you to the starting line. Scenario planning can be one strategy for stepping across those comfort lines. One of the MOR team members, Mike Sullivan, likes to always ask “what’s the worst that can happen?” Thinking through these possible outcomes can potentially soften the perceived risk. However, the fear of failure is a real hurdle for many of us. For some, small steps, smaller risks over the line can be one way to test what is possible. The world needs new ideas right now. As we travel the arch of ‘Respond-Adapt-Transform’, a narrative used in other Tuesday Readings about this period of time we are in, we need more experiments. It will take courage to initiate those efforts, and we need ideas to come from new places. We must acknowledge that not all new ideas will work. As Charlotte reminded me, “if you are not failing, you are not trying hard enough.”
Believe in Others and Create Space for Contribution – We all operate in a sphere of norms, some norms aid in acts of courage and many do not. One element to highlight in Charlotte’s story is the belief others had in her, including from a new senior leader within her organization. Our cultures are currents that influence how each new day will unfold and each decision will be made. How can we disrupt the flow of influence and power by giving it to others? How can we create space for others to step into, contribute, lead from where they are, and practice courage? Odd perhaps, that in an insight post about helping you think about exercising courage yourself, there is a suggestion that you create space to help others practice courage. Charlotte would remind me, and I would agree, this takes courage, sharing the light, or maybe even stepping out of it for others to shine. This is something within our control, inching forward new norms conducive to allowing others to practice courage. This gives us space to practice, and it gives us hope. This is evolution.
Let today be the day you declare that you too are okay with courage being your thing! And why not, you had it all along.