In Indian mythology, Hanuman, the monkey god, is the provider of courage. It’d be nice to summon the gods to make tough calls at work. (It’d be nice just to have a monkey around.) Instead, we have to build courage. With the help of Dr. Merom Klein at Philadelphia’s Courage Institute North America and his book The Courage to Act (Davies-Black, 2003), we developed this test to gauge your courage and help you improve. Turn the page to find out if you’re as daring — or as weak — as you think you are.
Take the courage quiz
Candor >> The courage to speak and hear the truth
1] You discover a flaw in your product design just before launch. What do you do?
- Flaw? What flaw? Lie low, let somebody else discover it and take the heat from your boss.
- March into your boss’s office and tell her.
- Blame your nemesis. That’s why he’s there.
2] Describe the overall tone during your team meetings.
- “Can’t we all just get along?”
- Tough issues get raised constructively.
- Long, uncomfortable silences are perfect for doing email.
3] When someone disagrees with you, what do you do?
- Restate your argument, only more loudly.
- Let teammates engage you on the issues, and make sure everyone hears one another.
- Challenge him to a duel, picking the weapons out of the supply cabinet.
4] You ask Bob to go over the department reviews he’s doing. As he’s discussing Dan’s team, Dan snickers. What do you do?
- Say “Thank you for sharing,” and move on.
- Stop the meeting. Encourage Dan to consider Bob’s message and let it sink in.
- Add your guffaws to Dan’s snickers. Then start with the eye rolling.
Purpose >> The courage to pursue lofty goals
5] Your biotech firm has set a goal to enter into clinical trials by the end of the year on a drug that helps seniors live more comfortably. How do you get skeptics to buy in?
- “That’s for others to worry about, not me.”
- Communicate the vision of improving your parents’ quality of life. If you succeed, employees, the company, and the community all benefit.
- Hold pizza parties every Friday!
6] Your sporting-goods chain needs to increase profits $1 million per store this year. How do you communicate that goal?
- “Make the numbers, or you’ll be fired.”
- “Put forth a little extra effort to win just one new customer a week, and we’ll make it.”
- Two words: creative accounting.
7] How do you or your team articulate your contribution to the team’s goal?
- “What difference does it make what I do?”
- “I may just be the janitor, but why would buyers pick us if this place is a dump?”
- “How did you find me here in the basement? Please don’t take my red stapler away.”
8] How do your employees respond to having to do something boring or unpleasant in support of the larger goal?
- They quietly sabotage the project so they can do what they find interesting.
- “If we succeed, then I’ll succeed, too.”
- Resumes jam the printer each morning.
Will >> The courage to inspire
9] Which phrase best describes your attitude?
- “My glass is half empty.”
- “My glass is half full.”
- “Who moved my glass?”
10] Your team’s energy is flagging. How do you revitalize it?
- Talk to employees painstakingly about why they’re despairing.
- Talk to employees and focus on their aspirations and hopes.
- Requisition cauldrons to burn the witches.
11] When the team is feeling the pressure, what do you do?
- Tell the inspiring story about when you finished a similar project solo, during a blackout.
- Tell a joke — anything to take the edge off.
- Stand over them screaming, “No mistakes!”
12] How do you convey to your team that they should be excited by challenges?
- Push forward with a grim, unbreakable spirit, only working harder when adversity strikes.
- Show confidence in them while still reinforcing that failure isn’t an option.
- Have you tried pizza parties every Friday?
Rigor >> The courage to impose discipline and make it stick
13] When presented with a hill to conquer, what do you do?
- Charge ahead heroically, taking the hill.
- Design a system that lets your team take the hill, anticipating any obstacles.
- To garner support, claim that the residents of the hill have weapons of mass destruction.
14] How do you react when offered an alternative to your way of doing things?
- Stand by your team and your methods.Ê
- Investigate how you can incorporate the alternative into how you already work.
- Scream “You cannot be serious!”, throw your racquet, and get your own talk show.
15] What procedures do you use to choose between conflicting proposals?
- Don’t steer the direction, just let the consensus emerge through a series of votes.
- Work backward, establish criteria to score each proposal, and persuade everyone to agree with the objective evidence.
- Let Trump decide in the boardroom.
16] A team member violates the company’s ethics code in making a sale, but it helps the team. What do you do?
- No harm, no foul.
- Rescind the sale under those circumstances, punishing the violator for ignoring the code.
- No pizza for a month.
Risk >> The courage to trust
17] Bob’s employer wants each salesperson to share leads with the rest of the team. Bob’s the top seller. How should he respond?
- “Sure, just give me a cut of every deal.”
- “If this helps the company serve its clients better, then everyone will get more business.”
- “Oops! Lost my Rolodex.”
18] A teammate wins an accolade, one you thought you deserved. What do you do?
- Determine why your teammate received the acclaim so you can get it next time.
- Be happy for your colleague and vicariously share in her success as part of the team.
- Plot that person’s demise.
19] How much time do you invest in really getting to know whom you work with?
- “I don’t suffer fools gladly.”
- “A ton. If we don’t know each other, then how will we be able to function well together?”
- “I have coworkers?”
20] A big project is coming up in a rookie teammate’s area of expertise. Do you:
- Give it to the star, snubbing the young turk?
- Go with the young turk, ruffling the star?
- Propose a bake-off, ripping the team in two?
Give yourself 1 point for every a answer, 2 points for every b answer, and no points for every c answer. 35-40 points: Congratulations! You’re a courageous leader. You take into account how you generate courage as well as your own actions. Think about any non-b answers and work on those areas. 20-35 points: You’re a high achiever, but you generally haven’t thought about how your me-first actions affect the courage of your team. Brush up on your weak spots. 0-20 points: You can come out from under your desk now. The bogeyman is gone.
If You Need to Improve…
Why is John McCain considered courageous today? Yeah, there’s the Hanoi Hilton stuff. But the real answer lies in his willingness to speak the truth. A free exchange of ideas and opinions is the essential building block of courage. Don’t play high-school-style games of not saying anything while everyone squirms, knowing the unpleasant truth. Speak up. What’s going to happen? You’ll get fired? As long as you’re tactful, you’ll always get another gig.
Much harder is the ability to hear the truth about yourself. If you have a rep for shutting down dissent, you can’t just start asking for feedback and expect to get it. You have to make it safe for people to express themselves. Communicate your desire to have everyone participate, and ask people from outside your inner circle to keep you in line. Respect and accept difficult feedback, and people will criticize you to your face more often. Isn’t that going to be great?
Anyone can have a vision, but what’s courageous is getting others to believe in it, fight for it as passionately as you will, and be accountable for seeing it through. Most people don’t care if their employer — or you in particular — makes more money. But if they’re part of creating a better tomorrow, for themselves and for the community at large, they’re in.
Break down the larger dream in clear terms so everyone has specific, measurable goals. Post the performance metrics so everyone can track his progress. If even the janitor sees how keeping the lobby clean impresses visitors, then you’ve succeeded in getting everyone to see a higher purpose in work. Call it Zen and the art of trash pickup.
Some folks produce their best work with a deadline bearing down on them. Others wilt. It’s all too easy to think of how we generally inspire ourselves and then use that to spur everyone we lead. You have to see the interdependence of your attitude and your team’s.
Pessimism may fuel your power plant, but you may be poisoning the groundwater. Optimism in the face of big challenges, delivered without any Pollyannaish hooey, is infectious. Focusing on solutions rather than rehashing problems energizes teams and keeps them from getting stuck. The best leaders understand each team member and act accordingly. And yes, pizza parties can be nice, but if that’s plan A for rallying the troops, then we have bad news for you: You run a sucky workplace.
Wagner Dodge, the smoke jumper who led his team into the Mann Gulch fire in Montana in 1949 (as profiled in Michael Useem’s The Leadership Moment [Times Books, 1998]), was individually courageous when he set a fire to save himself from the brush fire approaching him. But he lost most of his team, because he didn’t correctly prepare them to follow his lead. Just doing what you’ve always done to succeed without considering how it affects others can lead to disaster. They don’t give out medals for doing your homework (maybe a gold star, if you’re lucky), or for having a value system that guides your actions. But without a prism in place through which to view your actions, without some rules that are inviolate, you can’t be expected to make the right decisions routinely. So as counterintuitive as it may seem, there is courage in preparation.
This is the sweaty-palms moment. The leap. It takes daring to invest in your team’s abilities and not just rely on yourself. To embrace shared opportunity instead of going for the easier personal success. If you want others to take risks for you, you have to risk the consequences of empowering them to do so. It’s about making yourself vulnerable. The X factor here is humility. If you’re a “me first” person, then you won’t see beyond expediency. To encourage a culture of risk, measure it and reward it. The best organizations celebrate their most spectacular failures instead of burying them. Why? At least people were trying.