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Fuel for the Fire

Your September issue on courage should be read by everyone. By giving us real heroes, you've given us added emotional fuel to withstand the attacks of those who want stale conformity to win out over human progress. But courage, in my opinion, is not primary. It flows from integrity (loyalty in action to one's ideas), honesty (the refusal to fake reality), and from the recognition that character is the source of all values. Anyone who holds these virtues has the capacity for great courage and profound happiness. Thanks for giving us more unassailable proof that it's all possible.

Peter Murphy
CEO, Objective Consulting
Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan

Merit Badges for Courage

Thank you, Fast Company, for being the first major business publication to call it like it is. For decades we have been having the wrong conversation. Simply put, it takes courage for leaders to be humble and listen to those courageous enough tochallenge the status quo. Leaders, particularly in public companies, need courage to take the long view and create new possibilities in their business instead of bowing to Wall Street. Even more courage is required to own the inevitable mistakes that would come from such a process. What does courage have to do with business? Everything.

Tom Bowes and Tim Dixon
Partners
InCourage Inc.
Georgetown, Ontario

As a thirtysomething who's feeling overwhelmed and apathetic as I watch today's political and corporate environments, I found your entire courage issue outstanding and very motivating. In my view, without leadership and the requisite courage that must accompany it, all the rest of your monthly issues are irrelevant. I can only hope that you flood Capitol Hill and boardrooms across America with free copies!

Brian Nelson
IT/communications specialist
Computer Sciences Corp.
Huntsville, Alabama

I enjoy reading Fast Company each month — the only magazine I read from cover to cover — because the topics are very relevant to me as a leader and the responsibilities that I have directing my organization. But I also enjoy it because it's the only periodical with a conscience. The article in your September edition on Gap's decision to publish the working conditions of some of its factories overseas ("Gap's New Look: The See-Through") was fabulous. It's certainly courageous of Gap to be transparent, and equally commendable for you to focus on companies over the years that care about their workers in Third World countries.

Gino Grunberg
Gig Harbor, Washington

McCain's Courage

I really don't know much about John McCain aside from his presidential run and his TV appearances. But his article ("In Search of Courage") in your September issue sums up courage perfectly, especially for a young businessowner like myself who is hesitant to focus and do what has never been done in my industry. Remorse is definitely an awful companion — one that I do not want to live with, and certainly one I do not want my son to live with.

Hank Hurst
Web/Visual F/X designer
4 Advanced Media Inc.
Tampa, Florida

John McCain's earnest desire to be the spokesperson on courage unfortunately instills his convoluted understanding of true courage, of which I think the meaning is "heart and spirit." I appreciate that he has a deep understanding of courage and fear, but pitching this duality discounts the everyday behaviors of ordinary people and the profound stories of courage that he puts down, such as escaping a failed marriage, or the "little incident as a turning point in my life" that let John Byrne ("Why Courage?") find his courageous voice.

Sandra Ford Walston
Owner
Courage Leadership
Denver, Colorado

Defining Courage

Your recent courage issue failed to profile the courage to fight sex and racial discrimination. With the recent hallmark case against Morgan Stanley and the EEOC, what Allison Schieffelin faced and how she challenged discrimination at a Wall Street firm that she was dedicated to and remained loyal to, demonstrates courage under fire.

Your profiles of courage talk about CEOs who come in and fix their predecessors' screw-ups. I question these mop-and-broom examples. I'm not trying to belittle their achievements, but let's face it: They're getting a handsome salary, and it's a bullet point on their resume. What Gap is drawing attention to only now regarding sweatshop conditions has been a widely known problem for years. The Google guys have done something that no one has done before, but they fed a hungry dog a bone, and as long as that dog is wagging its tail, Google can do whatever it wants. Many women and minorities have to face adversity on a day-to-day basis and handle circumstances that are unfair, belittling, and unnecessary. It takes courage to face it and leadership to have a successful outcome of it.

Name and location withheld

While I greatly enjoyed the recent issue on courage, I was struck by one concern. Senator McCain rightly asserts that facing and overcoming fear is a critical ingredient in defining acts of courage. Therefore, I find it difficult to see how the impressive, but not particularly fear-laden (a $3.5 million signing bonus?) turnaround efforts of Ed Breen at Tyco ("One Tough Assignment") rise to the same standards as the others you profiled. In the same issue, I think Garry Kasparov made an important distinction ("The Unthinkable . . . and the Mundane") between courage and boldness; let's not mistake one for the other simply because a business leader produces strong financial results out of dire circumstances. McCain's challenge to Americans to close the "courage deficit" in this country demands much more from us.

Steve Struthers
The Public Strategies Group Inc.
Saint Paul, Minnesota

As I read through the September issue of Fast Company, I was shocked by the fact that part of the picture of courage was missing. The likes of Google, Tyco, and ImClone were all there. The boardroom, the Army, the 9/11 Commission — all there. What of the wiping of the counter, the sweeping of the sidewalk, the stocking of the shelves? What about the juggling of operating capital, the calling of creditors, the checking of lost shipments on the way to the supermarket? This is the courage shown by an army of mom-and-pop businesses every day, and I would propose that the bulk of business courage is of this kind. To adapt a Dr. Seuss quotation, "Courage is courage, no matter how small."

Andrew M. Whaley
CEO
Coffeeboy
Ventura, California

Your special edition on courage reminded me of a story I heard many years ago, which may be apocryphal but one wants to believe is true. A student sitting for the entrance exam to Oxford University in the United Kingdom was asked to write an essay on the theme "What is courage?" Forty minutes were allowed, but the student wrote only one word: "This." Of course, he got a place.

Jeremy Diamond
Partner
The Distillery Inc.
New York, New York

The Politics of Courage

Why don't you just use vote left as the cover line on your next issue? I expect the usual liberal leaners in the media to be doing their best to cast bias across the country so close to the election. However, I have never expected that from Fast Company.

There are a number of questionable political nuances in your September issue. Among them: You attack CBS ("Cowards of the Year") for not running the Reagan miniseries, which showed respect for a conservative leader. For an industry that is constantly attacking everything conservative, I think one move in a million doesn't threaten the liberal way of life. In the same piece, you call Michael Moore debatably courageous. In Hollywood, there is nothing courageous about speaking out against Republicans. And of course, the only Republican you find worth defending ("Words Worth Fighting For") is Barry Goldwater, who had the guts to attack fellow Republicans with some of his more liberal viewpoints. I can see how supporting gays in the military and bashing the religious Right could make him enlightened in the admittedly liberal Pete Hamill's estimation.

Your issue has a blatant lack of balance for Bush and his administration. This is a president who, even if you disagree with him, has seen this country through a great deal of challenges. Clinton's challenges loomed large, but were primarily self-induced.

Heather Shanks
Waukesha, Wisconsin

I received your so-called courage issue today, in which you profiled Republicans like John McCain and Barry Goldwater as courageous. Then there was "The Realist-Idealist Dilemma" — a real laugh — on George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Clinton, of course, makes your "cowards" list.

I used to think your magazine was smart and hip, but your choices are neither. I didn't realize you'd fallen for the old Republican party rubbish — and that you'd flaunt it with the elections just a few months away.

Holly Hand
Boston, Massachusetts

Parting Company

In your September article, Bill George speaks the truth when it comes to describing today's CEOs ("Mr. Inside Speaks Out"). I recently resigned from a multibillion-dollar organization that I found to be unethical and deceitful toward its employees. As a manager, my convictions have always been based on honesty, and I left due to the CEO's obsession with quarterly earnings and disregard for the needs of employees or customers and what the company stands for and works toward: true values.

I believe that employees are a company's most valued asset and without them customers don't exist. If more CEOs were authentic leaders like George, we'd all be better off.

Name withheld
Operations manager
Boston, Massachusetts

Asking Our Leaders to Lead

Thank you for this timely and important topic! It is the demonstrated lack of courage from many of the folks in Washington that has helped drive what I believe is the financial and moral bankruptcy of this country. It is my general belief that the majority of those people we all depend on for responsible government and fair business practices are without courage. Government leaders lack the courage to acknowledge or to solve genuine problems in this country, while business leaders and corporate lobbyists act without the courage to place the welfare of our country above their own interests. I intend to read this issue cover to cover with the hope that it helps me to insist on courage not only from others, but from myself, too.

Paul J. McCallister
Owner and president
McCallister Consulting Group Ltd.
Centennial, Colorado

At the pinnacle of the categories of courageous people, in a class of their own, are whistle-blowers, wherever they appear — in business, in government, in the press. For me, the latest, greatest courageous whistle-blower is Spc. Joseph M. Darby, the Army reservist who tipped off investigators to the inhuman treatment of Iraqi prisoners. Because of numerous death threats, he is now in protective military custody. I would like to see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, or others in a position of power muster enough guts to speak out in his defense.

Herman M. Heyn
Baltimore, Maryland

Nature Vs. Nurture

What Mr. Halberstam describes in your September issue ("The Greatness That Cannot Be Taught") is passion and talent. Many professionals gifted in the hands-on work that their field requires are ill-suited to manage and lead others. The key to successful leadership is the ability to fundamentally change the way in which one contributes.

The greatness that Mr. Halberstam asserts cannot be taught must at minimum be encouraged, explained, and rewarded. The development of leadership must be an active process if new leaders, whether they're born or bred, are to be cultivated.

Jeff Lesher
Vice president, client solutions
Novations Group Inc.
McLean, Virginia

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Send us an email (loop@fastcompany.com). Submission of a letter constitutes permission to publish it in any form or medium. Letters may be edited for reasons of space and clarity.

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