Courage in the Little Things

The grind of decision making can be exhausting. If you kept track of the number of decisions you make every day, you’d probably feel even more tired.

The grind of decision making can be exhausting. If you kept track of the number of decisions you make every day, you’d probably feel even more tired. We live with the knowledge that our mistakes could jeopardize the very existence of our company. That reality can cause us to grow tentative in decision-making, reluctant to upset the status quo, and slow to pull the trigger when the pressure is on. We often fail to recognize that this hesitancy might be based in fear — something few leaders are willing to confess. While many leaders would find the courage to do the right thing in a big crisis, it’s often courage in the little things that we lack.

The courage to make the hard people decisions — It is not uncommon to see, even in great companies, a workaround involving someone in a key role who: a) gets results, and b) inflicts plenty of relational damage along the way. That person is usually perceived as not being held to the same standards as everyone else. Leaders can send signals that contradict our stated values in those situations (i.e., that production is more valued than character). A courageous leader must occasionally make a hard call to let a high performer go in order to protect the team. A reluctance to hold relationally challenged people accountable will almost always be more costly than the decision to move on without them when other high performers decide to leave.

The courage to say no to working with the wrong partners — We’ve all had them…the owners that are hard to please, slow to pay and quick to point the finger. Trade partners who over-promise and under-deliver. A courageous leader will do a cost/benefit analysis and determine that even in a tight market, certain clients and partners are not worth the wear and tear on your people and emotions. Your team will thank you.

The courage to see the future looks much different from the past — None of us have a crystal ball. But even when a seismic shift is underway, we see some people clinging to old habits and old ways of thinking, long after the majority has moved on. Whether it’s a market that is quickly disappearing, a methodology we enjoy and don’t want to change, or an aversion to technology, having the courage to make a fundamental change in the way we do business can come too late for some.

The courage to admit our mistakes and take the blame — Human beings have a remarkable capacity to quickly forget most of our mistakes and missteps, remembering only those times we got it right. Other people seem to remember the times we were the problem and take credit themselves for our wins! Yet when a leader owns a mistake and resists the urge to blame others, it seems to gain more good will and loyalty than just about anything else we can do.

So where does a leader in our industry find the courage for the little things as well as the big things? The key is being rock solid on our principles, our personal values. They should be crystal clear, few and non-negotiable. As an example, while everyone likes to say things like, “our people are our most important asset,” anytime our behavior contradicts that cliché, we lose credibility.

If you haven’t taken the time lately to reconsider those things you won’t compromise, you may find it worthwhile. Involve others in the exercise, asking your key leaders what, based on your recent behavioral history, feels like the biggest drivers in your life. If the answer surprises you, don’t shoot the messenger. Own it, apologize, and take steps to find courage for the little things.

Ron Magnus
Ron Magnus

Ron Magnus, managing director of FMI’s Leadership and Organizational Development Practice, with Tim Tokarczyk, partner.