Courage & Your Leadership to Management Ratio

In this episode of Culture by Design, Tim and Junior talk about courage as a leadership trait. Courage is a characteristic you need if you want to take risks, innovate, and progress. It's the biggest difference between managers and leaders.

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Episode Show Notes

In this episode of Culture by Design, Tim and Junior talk about courage as a leadership trait. Courage is a characteristic you need if you want to take risks, innovate, and progress. It's the biggest difference between managers and leaders. This episode is full of practical advice on developing courage, including embracing reality, deep listening, and aiming high. 


(0:02:38) Management vs. Leadership, what’s the difference? The risk profile of leadership as an applied discipline is quite a bit different than the risk profile of management. Why is leadership higher risk? Because leaders venture farther into the unknown than managers do. And it takes courage to explore, to disrupt, and to create.


(0:15:29) What is your leadership-to-management ratio? As disciplines, leadership and management complement and yet compete with each other. They’re interdependent but not interchangeable. They represent different roles, but not different people.


(0:28:54) Creativity requires courage. If innovation is about deviation and disrupting the status quo, then creativity is part of that process. But luckily, courage, like creativity, is a learnable skill. 


(0:35:11) Tim and Junior share four ways to increase courage. (1) Listen, (2) change before it becomes obvious, (3) embrace reality, (4) aim high. 

Episode Transcript

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0:00:02.4 Producer: Welcome back Culture by Design listeners. It's Freddy, the producer of the podcast. In today's episode, we're continuing our Leading with Character and Competence series with a discussion on the fourth cornerstone of character, courage. If you didn't listen to the previous episodes in the series, don't worry, you can start here and head back to listen to the others after. Today, Tim and Junior will talk about the leadership trait of courage. Courage is required to take risks, to innovate, and to progress. Courage is the biggest difference between managers and leaders. And today's episode is full of practical advice on developing courage, including embracing reality, deep listening, and aiming high. As always, links to this episode's show notes can be found at leaderfactor.com/podcast. Enjoy today's episode on courage.

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0:01:00.0 Junior: Welcome back everyone to Culture by Design. My name's Junior and I'm here with Dr. Tim Clark, and today we'll be discussing the final cornerstone of character, courage. Tim, how are you? 

0:01:10.0 Tim: Doing well. Thanks, Junior. How are you? 

0:01:11.7 Junior: I'm doing very well, and I'm very excited for today's episode. I've been thinking about this for a number of days as we've jotted down some of the thoughts and things we wanna hit on, and I think we're gonna have a good conversation today.

0:01:23.6 Tim: I do, too.

0:01:25.3 Junior: In a letter to his children, English army Major Simon Willard said, "Whether called the public station or in the more private walks, following no man and no cause because of popularity, shunning no man and no cause you believe to be right because of unpopularity or reproach. But avoiding the parasite and self-seeker and standing bravely by your own convictions." What a statement. In today's conversation, we're going to discuss why courage is one of the core differences between leadership and management, and what we can do to develop more. Tim, what is courage to you? 

0:02:04.6 Tim: Well, to me, this means that courage is the antithesis of living life in the social mirror. If you think about it, your locus of control is within you, it's not outside of you, and over time, if you live life that way, that brings confidence and it brings peace to your daily life. It's not easy, but this is what happens when you, as Simon Willard said, you're standing bravely by your own convictions. You're living life that way.

0:02:38.2 Junior: We've got a rough agenda for today's conversation. We're going to define courage a little more, we're going to talk about the difference between leadership and management. We're gonna talk about why it's so important for each of us to develop at an individual level, and then we'll talk about how to do that. So stick around through the end because we've got some pretty practical tools and things that we can do to become just a little bit better. So management versus leadership, what is the difference? The more we thought about this, the more that it seemed that leadership is higher risk. You think that's fair, Tim? 

0:03:11.5 Tim: Yeah, I do. Yeah, the risk profile of leadership as an applied discipline is quite a bit different than the risk profile of management as an applied discipline, and so I think what we're going to do today, Junior, is we're going to put forward the thought... Not just the thought, but the hypothesis that courage is at the center of that distinction between management and leadership. Do you agree? 

0:03:41.8 Junior: Yeah, I do. So let's flush it out. Why is leadership higher risk? Because managers execute, leaders explore. Managers maintain, leaders disrupt. One of the ways that you've put it is that managers are caretakers, leaders are creators. Leaders, they venture farther into the unknown than managers do. So what does it take to do all of those things, to explore, to disrupt, and to create? Courage.

0:04:16.1 Tim: Yeah.

0:04:16.6 Junior: We think that that's the crux of the issue, that it is the biggest difference between managers and leaders, or at least that's our running hypothesis, and we've yet to disprove it. How about that? 

0:04:27.1 Tim: Yeah, I agree.

0:04:27.8 Junior: So the definition for courage from the US Marine Corps handbook is this. Moral, mental and physical strength to resist opposition, face danger, and endure hardship. I think that it's appropriate to look at a definition of courage from the Marines. Google says the ability to do something that frightens you, or strength in the face of pain or grief. These definitions are pretty interesting. Courage is required to take risks. So if leadership is risky and courage is required to take risks, then leadership requires courage. What do you think about doing something that frightens you? 

0:05:13.4 Tim: Right, I think, Junior, that having courage does not mean that you're not scared. That's not what it means. People that have courage are not the people that don't find it frightening, don't find it anxious, don't find it uncertain, don't find it hard. It doesn't mean that at all, they're just as scared as anyone else, but what it does mean, courage means that you are willing to act even though you are scared, and you are anxious, and you are uncertain. So I think that's the difference, is the willingness in the face of risk, in the face of uncertainty, in the face of potential loss, in the face of fear and doubt. That's the difference. So it doesn't mean you're not scared. Courageous people are probably every bit as scared as everyone else.

0:06:10.9 Junior: It makes me wonder, there are a few... Well, there are many books that have stuck with me. Years ago, I went to a used bookstore and I bought a book with a bunch of Plato... It may have been Plato's book four. I can't remember if it's book four or book seven, but there was something in that book that struck me that stuck with me for a really long time. I'm not sure if it was Plato or if it was Socrates telling Plato, that courage is the understanding of what should and shouldn't be feared. And I've always really liked that definition.

0:06:43.0 Tim: I do like that.

0:06:46.4 Junior: And it probably stands to reason that there are a lot of things that we are typically afraid of that we shouldn't be, and maybe some things that we typically aren't afraid of that we should be. And so we have to grapple with the unknown, and fear may or may not be the perfect way to characterize it, but there is this element of moving into the unknown, of not understanding the outcome with a high degree of certainty, and yet moving forward despite that. So I think that courage, to go back to the difference, really is that core difference. So one of the things that you put in the book is this. Leaders can compensate for their management deficiencies, but managers cannot compensate for their leadership deficiencies. You probably thought about that a lot. Unpack it for me.

0:07:45.4 Tim: Right. So this is a one-way delegation principle, and I hope that listeners will ponder this. You can delegate management. So for example, let's say that you're a leader, you're in a leadership role, could be formal, could be informal. Can you delegate management things, management responsibilities? Yes, you can. You can surround yourself with people that are good at some of those things. It could be planning, it could be strategy, it could be communication, it could be aspects of execution. There's a lot of management responsibility and even skills that if you don't have, you can delegate to people around you, and you can still do very well if you have the complement of skills in the team.

0:08:46.3 Tim: Alright, now let's ask the same question in the other direction, can you delegate the leadership responsibilities and skills and knowledge that you need? And the answer is no. Why? Because if you try to delegate leadership, you're literally delegating the essence of your role, and so if you try to delegate leadership, you're actually abdicating your role. Isn't that interesting? You can delegate management aspects of your role, but you cannot delegate leadership aspects of your role. So it only works in one direction, and that goes back to... It highlights, it underscores the importance of courage in all of this because you can't delegate that. If courage is at the center of leadership and you can't delegate that, then you need to find leadership within yourself, not within other people. Very interesting principle.

0:09:56.6 Junior: You can't compensate for a lack of courage.

0:09:58.8 Tim: No.

0:10:00.2 Junior: I hadn't thought about it that way, but the way you're describing it makes all the sense in the world to me, especially if we use those two things synonymously, or at least they're inseparable, leadership and courage. So if you can't delegate leadership, it would follow that you can't delegate courage. So what does that mean? And it means that you need to go and get some for you.

0:10:16.8 Tim: That's right.

0:10:18.4 Junior: So James G. March talks about the difference between exploitation and exploration. That's probably a pretty good distinction between the two disciplines, right? 

0:10:27.0 Tim: It is, Junior, and I think as far as we can tell, he's the original theorist that highlights this distinction between exploitation, which means that you're kind of maintaining the status quo, versus exploration, which means that you are trying to figure out what to do in the future, you're exploring. And again, that distinction highlights the need for courage because if you're in exploration mode, someone's got to do that, someone has to help us get to the future, define the future, shape of future. You need courage for that.

0:11:08.5 Junior: Yeah. Well, exploitation often has or it just does have a negative connotation, I don't think it's intended that way in this context.

0:11:16.6 Tim: No, not at all.

0:11:17.8 Junior: I like your explanation of execution versus exploration, I think that makes a lot of sense to me, and I think the that connotation is more aligned.

0:11:27.1 Tim: Yeah, you can use that.

0:11:28.4 Junior: So what's wrong with that? Execution versus exploration. Here's a quote from Hugh Nibley, author and Professor, leaders are movers and shakers, original, inventive, unpredictable, imaginative, full of surprises, the discomfit the enemy in war and the main office in peace. For managers are safe, conservative, predictable, conforming organization, men and women and team players dedicated to the establishment.

0:11:57.5 Tim: Right.

0:11:58.1 Junior: That's a little pokey.

0:12:00.0 Tim: That's more than a little pokey.

0:12:01.4 Junior: That's pretty interesting. Well, how about this piece? Leaders are unpredictable. That's curious, what do you think about that? 

0:12:09.5 Tim: Well, they're unpredictable because we don't know where we're going. If you're exploring, if you're courageously moving through uncharted territory, you yourself don't know where you're going, let alone the organization. That's the nature of exploration, it's emergent, and this all requires courage, and inevitably what that means is that you're going to disrupt the status quo and you're going to up-end the establishment to some extent as you move forward. That's the nature of leadership as a discipline and courage, which is at the center of doing all of that.

0:12:53.7 Junior: Well, I think it's appropriate to call out probably at this point that some of this sounds like mutiny, right? We're gonna up-end the establishment, and I think it's appropriate to call out that as we've discussed before, there are times and seasons for these things, there are instances in which execution is appropriate, and that's probably the majority of the time. We need to create value today, and yes, we need to figure out ways to create value tomorrow, but if we don't execute, there won't be an organization tomorrow.

0:13:23.1 Tim: That's right.

0:13:24.4 Junior: And so we need to put that in there, I think, before people think we're calling for mutiny.

0:13:28.9 Tim: No, we're not, and that's the preserve versus disturb distinction. It is very, very important. We need to know when to do the preserving and preserving the status quo is what allows us to, as you say, Junior, deliver value today. The disturbing is the process that we go through to figure out how we're going to deliver value tomorrow. So it's an interplay between these two things, the preserving and the disturbing and that's what makes it difficult.

0:14:02.1 Junior: Yeah, yeah. That is what makes it difficult. You have to manage and you have to lead, but as we've talked about, the thrust of leadership is different, leaders create the future, managers maintain the present, and it's not as black and white as that every time, everyday. But that is the crux of the issue, which do you want to be, would then follow as a question, a manager or a leader? You can't just be a manager and be all you could be.

0:14:30.4 Tim: No.

0:14:31.6 Junior: You have to venture into the unknown, take some steps into the fog and develop some of these skills, and what that means is that you're going to take on risk. So if we all aspire to be leaders, then why aren't we all wonderful leaders because leadership is risky business. Your exploration could end up being nothing more than wandering, your disruption could possibly end with no advancement at all, maybe you even make things worse. You may end up creating something that no one cares about in your attempt to venture even further into that unexplored unknown territory, you might fail. And so, it sounds wonderful. We wanna do this, we want to pioneer, but there's risk that comes with being a pioneer that you can't detach from the act of being a pioneer. It's not... It's inseparable.

0:15:29.7 Tim: That's very true. Junior, here's a diagnostic that listeners can use. So for example, think about your role right now, your professional role in your organization, and think about what that role is requiring of you, think about the expectations of your role. And as you think about that, you're able to define a leadership to management ratio, depending on the role, depending on what the role calls for. So you could be in a frontline supervisory role, and you could say, well, most of my role is just executing and it's an operating role, and so therefore, it's probably 20% leadership, 80% management because I'm maintaining current systems and processes and structures and procedures and policies, et cetera. Okay, great. So you have a 20-80 leadership to management ratio. In other roles, maybe it's 50-50, maybe it's 60-40, whatever that may be. And what you'll notice is that different roles require different leadership to management ratios, and they really vary, they range. They can be very different one from another.

0:17:00.0 Tim: And that's fine, but I think it's important to understand that that leadership to management ratio will vary as you move through your life, as you move through professional life. Well, why is that important? It's important to understand what the role requires, the broad contours of what the organization is asking of you. And certainly there's going to be some leadership. Even if it's a small proportion, there's going to be some leadership required. I think the other thing to say is that you don't... Some people, they occupy a role and they think, well, I just manage, I just do the management side, I don't do the leadership side. But that's not completely true, no one gets special dispensation from the leadership side, where you don't have to exercise leadership, you don't have to do that, and you don't need the courage that is required for leadership. Even if it's a small proportion of the ratio, there's going to be some leadership in there, so that's just a frame to use to think about your role, to think about what the organization is asking of you.

0:18:15.2 Junior: It's very helpful. Well, Tim, you've got three letters after your name that were pretty hard to get. Tell us about that.

0:18:23.0 Tim: Well, right. So, I'll tell you a little bit about my story. So I went to Oxford years ago as a new PhD student, and long story short, a very long story short, after five years, my advisor said to me, well, you're done. He had read my doctoral dissertation, we'd gone through everything, and he said, you're ready to do the final step. And the final step is what they call the oral defense of your dissertation. And that means that you go before your examiners and they have read it in advance, and they ask you questions. And so the way that my advisor put it, he said, well, you're ready, so we're gonna schedule your oral defense and don't worry about it. It's really more ceremonial. It's really more perfunctory, and so enjoy the experience. You've worked hard, it's been five years, and here you are. And so I thought, well, this is great, and it had been a long journey.

0:19:35.4 Tim: And so at Oxford, when you do your, the formal defense and the oral defense of your dissertation, you have to put on black robes. So it's a traditional ritualistic experience in many ways. So you put on your black robes. So I did, and I went to the college, I had my black robes on, and my examiners were there in a room. And we spent the next two hours talking about my work, and they grilled me pretty hard. And as we got into it more and more and more over the course of those two hours, I thought, wow, this feels a little bit more than ceremonial, right? This feels very rigorous and it feels as if this is a very serious test, a very serious examination. So after two hours, they excused me, and I'm at Nuffield College, which is one of the colleges at Oxford University.

0:20:45.9 Tim: They excused me out of the room, and they caucus, I guess, they spend some time talking together. I am outside of the room. They've escorted me out. And then after a while, they invite me to come back in and I'm thinking, oh, great, okay, well, let's finish this up. And they proceed to tell me that I have failed the test. And I couldn't believe it. They said, yeah, well, we're not completely happy with the dissertation. We want another chapter on this. We want more statistical analysis on your data. It was a cross-national comparative study of culture, and I was absolutely shattered. I'll never forget going out into the rainy English weather. By that time it had turned dark, and I just couldn't believe what had happened. So I had failed that oral defense. So these are moments of truth, and you have to make a choice. What are you going to do? Are you going to summon some courage? 

0:22:05.2 Tim: Pick yourself up, gather yourself, move forward. What are you going to do? Are you going to quit? Are you going to look for a shortcut, a back door? So that was a real test for me, Junior, in my life, a test of courage. And as it turns out, it took another complete year to do more work, but I came back. I fulfilled every requirement, every little thing that they wanted to meet the standard, and I was able to finish. But in the end... So there's a really great story here, or a great lesson, or a great moral. In the end, what was it about? Was it about intellect at the end? Was it about your smarts, being clever? No, it was about courage. It was about the stamina, the perseverance, the resilience. Those are all manifestations of courage. In the end, that's what it was about, to go the distance. So it was a long journey, and we had some surprises along the way.

0:23:21.6 Junior: Well, I appreciate you sharing that. That's six years in just a couple of minutes, and there's a lot in there.

0:23:28.5 Tim: There's a lot.

0:23:29.8 Junior: There are a couple things that strike me from that story. And the first is, it required courage to even make the attempt in the first place. It required courage to make that first step, day one, to say, I'm gonna go and pursue this. And it's not that you, over that span of five years, did the dissertation in a month and then waited four years and 11 months. That was five years of work.

0:23:53.7 Tim: Yeah.

0:23:54.2 Junior: And then after that, you're told, mm-mm, not quite there. And so I imagine that there were many instances across the entire journey that required courage to move to that next step. And often, most of the courage will be required later in the journey. Yeah, it requires some courage to take the first step, but there's a lot more than just one step. Let's say that there's 37 steps on the journey. It could be that you're 24 steps along, and there's a big obstacle that comes up, and you've already sacrificed all of this time, you've sacrificed this energy. And it could be that we say we're just gonna opt out at this point. And sometimes, it's important to quit at the right time, but often, most of what is rewarding and worthwhile comes on the other side of those types of obstacles. So what a cool story.

0:24:51.3 Tim: Well, Junior, and I think it highlights what you just said as a really important point, and that is that courage is, there are moments of courage. There are situations where you are thrust into a situation where you need to demonstrate courage, but most of the time, courage is not an event, it's a process. You demonstrate courage in a quiet way. It's this quiet persistence in the face of opposition, in the face of obstacles, in the face of fear, in the face of uncertainty. That's the nature of courage over time. It's not an event. I'm going to be courageous today, and then I don't have to be courageous for a while, and then maybe I'll have another event that requires courage. That's not how it works. It's this quiet perseverance over time.

0:25:48.2 Junior: Well, one of the things I love about courage, just like so many other attributes we talk about, it's got a very long memory. And so the next time you are faced with a challenge like that you remember the previous experience and say, oh, we've been here before. I know how this goes. This is the fifth year of the dissertation. It might require another year. And the way that that shows up in our lives is different person to person and season to season. But as we grow that muscle, it becomes increasingly easy to forecast what's gonna happen next. Okay, this is gonna require a little bit of courage. This is gonna require walking into the unknown, but I've walked into the unknown 87 times before, and I know how it works. And sometimes that will be easier than others.

0:26:35.0 Junior: And sometimes there will be some fog that's thicker than the fog we've experienced before, and we'll have to grow to the next level. But I really love this. Part of what I love about it is that it's a learnable skill. That's something that's important to understand. This isn't something that you're just hardwired with, and maybe you have some predisposition for it, I don't know. But certainly I've seen instances in my own life where I've acquired more courage, and I've seen that in other people's lives where they've become more courageous over time, and that wasn't just causal through time. It's not something that just happens. It's a product of two things. The environment imposing some things on you, and then you going back to the environment and saying, okay, let's do it. Let's go ahead and let's walk into the fog a little bit.

0:27:23.6 Tim: And I'll just say one more time, Junior, that courage, this summary statement is that courage is not the absence of fear. That's not what it is. Courage is persevering in the face of fear. Fear is a given. Uncertainty is a given. Anxiety is a given. Those are the conditions in which you are demonstrating courage. It's not the absence of those things. They are present. They are there. The operating assumption is that you're surrounded by those things.

0:27:53.7 Junior: Yep. And you acknowledge them, and you don't deny that they're there.

0:27:58.7 Tim: No.

0:27:58.9 Junior: You don't say, well, oh, there's no fear here. There's no anxiety here. You look at it right in the face, you square up to it, and then you move forward.

0:28:07.5 Tim: That's right.

0:28:09.2 Junior: There are many, many incentives that would push us towards safety, towards equilibrium, towards the known and the comfortable. But if we stay there, then we will not innovate. We will not progress. And by nature and definition, both of those things, innovation and progress, require moving away from the status quo. They require courage. Courage and innovation are inseparable. It's one of the things that I was tossing around in my brain this week is are those two things separable? I don't think so, because innovation is by definition, a deviation from the status quo. If we're deviating from the status quo, we're moving into the unknown. The unknown is scary. And what do you need to overcome things that are scary? Courage.

0:28:53.9 Tim: That's right.

0:28:54.5 Junior: You said creativity requires courage. That one's interesting.

0:28:58.7 Tim: Well, it's connected to innovation, right Junior? Innovation is about deviation, as you said, it's about upending the status quo, disrupting the status quo. Well, creativity is part of that process.

0:29:15.4 Junior: Yeah. Well, I think about creativity and artistry, and I envision an artist who is gonna take a risk and say, well, this hasn't really been done before, and I personally haven't done this before. I'm not sure how it's gonna turn out, but I'm gonna put pen to paper or paintbrush to canvas and see what happens. And we see across history, some of the most beautiful moments in human history have come when someone said, okay, I'm gonna do this a little bit differently.

0:29:45.4 Tim: That's right.

0:29:45.7 Junior: So, courage is a learnable skill. Let's talk about how we can get more. Carol Dweck said there is no relation between students' abilities or intelligence and the development of mastery oriented qualities. Some of the very brightest students avoid challenges, dislike effort, and wilt in the face of difficulty. And some of the less bright students are real go-getters, thriving on challenge, persisting intensely when things get difficult and accomplishing more than you expected. I love that quote, and if you understand the context and Carol Dweck's work, then it makes even more sense.

0:30:23.2 Tim: Yeah.

0:30:23.2 Junior: So courage is a form of stamina that propels us forward. As you say, we become more willing to delay gratification and endure planned deprivation for bigger rewards down the road. And this does not have to do with intelligence, does it? It's part of Dweck's point.

0:30:42.4 Tim: I think it's a moral quality, and it's a moral capacity, Junior. Think about the fact that delayed gratification and planned deprivation are manifestations of courage. If you want a bigger reward down the road, rather than the smaller reward that you can take today, it takes courage and mixed with faith, right? And vision and some other things, but courage is part of that equation. It's often invisible. We don't see it. When we think of courage, we often think about visible indications of bravery in the face of big obstacles or opponents or foes. But most of the time, it's invisible and the choices that we make to be courageous, we make within the chambers of our own hearts. But you think about that, delayed gratification and planned deprivation. These are manifestations of courage.

0:31:49.5 Junior: So that means then that the limits to courage reside within you. They're your own limitations. They are self-imposed. You are in charge. You mentioned a story about an Ethiopian taxi driver that really struck me. Would you mind sharing that? 

0:32:06.9 Tim: I was in Washington, DC and I grabbed a cab at the end of the day, and the driver, I struck up a conversation with the driver, and he turned out to be from Ethiopia and we had a great conversation. And he was so full of energy and hope and enthusiasm that it really startled me. And I just thought, wow, why are you so excited? Why are you brimming with this energy? And as I got to know him and talk to him, it turns out, he said, well, I'm going to a night school. I'm going to college at night after I get off my shift. I've got a couple of classes and I'm actually progressing and I'm in my last year of college and I'm going to graduate. And I just was floored and astounded and elated to learn about this young man's courage. He came to the United States with nothing. He had no education, and here he was, chipping away at a college degree. And he told me that most of the time, he would just take one class at a time, one class per semester or whatever it was.

0:33:26.5 Tim: And he was on the... I think he just had a few more classes and he was going to graduate. And I just thought to myself, whoa. Somewhere along the line, my Ethiopian friend got the idea that he could go to college. Where did he get that idea? It was astonishing. The story doesn't end there, Junior. The story does not end there. I stayed in touch with this young man. I was so impressed with him. I got his contact information, I got his name, I got his number, I got his email address. And I said, maybe I can help you if you're coming to the end of your college studies and you're going to graduate. And it was I think the University of Washington DC, kind of an inner city university. But I got his contact information, I stayed in touch with him, and he did graduate, and I actually secured an interview for him at a Fortune 500 company, a client organization that we've worked with for many years, an outstanding organization.

0:34:42.2 Junior: Wow.

0:34:42.3 Tim: I know he didn't get the initial job that he applied for, but I was able to just help him get into that process of interviewing, and I was able to help him with his resume and some skills. He didn't get that initial job, but he got a different job, but just amazing. Is that story not about courage? This is all about courage.

0:35:07.3 Junior: I never heard the back half of that story. So that is amazing.

0:35:10.4 Tim: Yeah.

0:35:11.2 Junior: Amazing. And kudos to you for striking up a conversation. A lot of us have a hard time doing that, and I'm one of them. So let's talk about four things that we can do to increase courage. Number one may strike you as surprising, and it's listen. That's recommendation number one. If you wanna develop more courage, listen. Bill Gates made on his final day of work as chairman of Microsoft, a statement. When we miss a big change, when we don't get great people on it, that is the most dangerous thing for us. So how do you miss a big change? You stop listening and then you stop asking. So I've been thinking about this point. Why would we say, listen? Listening requires courage. Why? Because you may hear something that's disconcerting. You may hear something that is disagreement. You may hear something that disproves something that you thought was true. So listening can be risky business.

0:36:23.1 Tim: Something inconvenient, Junior.

0:36:24.0 Junior: Yeah.

0:36:24.5 Tim: You may hear something that you don't want to hear, and you're trying to craft this reality around you that allows you to nestle into this beautiful working accommodation with reality. But there are inconvenient facts and realities around there that you may wanna block out.

0:36:44.6 Junior: Yeah. You may hear something that sounds like work.

0:36:46.8 Tim: That's right.

0:36:47.9 Junior: I know that's true for me. Sometimes, I don't wanna listen because I know that in all likelihood, on the other end of that listening lies something to do.

0:36:55.0 Tim: Yes.

0:36:56.9 Junior: Something to change and something to go and spend energy on. And so I think that there are some serious incentives to not listen, to just put in the earplugs and carry on with whatever it was you were doing. Listening can be a really disruptive thing, if you take action based on what you hear.

0:37:17.0 Tim: Well, I appreciate the fact that you are making the correlation between listening and courage, that's not something that people ordinarily put together like that.

0:37:28.0 Junior: Yeah, it's not obvious. It's something that I've really been thinking about, and it doesn't seem like a courageous act because... Well, it may not, at first glance, because listening is what's often viewed as passive, you're not doing anything, you're not saying anything, you're just there paying attention, but that's really the first step, because you're not gonna have all of the answers. And I think that part of why listening is courageous is because you're acknowledging that you're ignorant to something, otherwise, why would you listen if you weren't? 

0:38:03.6 Tim: Yeah, and it's a form of exposure, you're expressing your willingness to be exposed to all of the realities out there.

0:38:11.5 Junior: Yeah, so that's number one is listen. Number two, again, this one may seem surprising, change before it becomes obvious. John Chambers, who served as CEO of Cisco for 20 years, said this, my most important decisions are about adjusting to change, over the last 20 years we've reinvented ourselves five or six times. Some were positive re-inventions, some were very painful. I worry about missing market transitions, shifts in technology, a change in buying patterns, but I think fear is a wasted emotion, you have to change before it becomes obvious. What do you think about that? 

0:38:52.3 Tim: Great insight. He's talking about his overall adaptive capacity as a leader and the adaptive capacity of Cisco during those 20 years, and he's coming back to courage as central to that adaptive capacity. What are you adapting to? You're adapting to the adaptive challenges that come your way, the opportunities, the threats and the crises that come your way. He talks about missing market transitions, shifts in technology, changes in buying patterns. We don't know when those things are going to happen, we try to monitor not only trends, but inflection points in those trends, and so that connection between adaptability and courage, it's pretty central, it's just a very insightful statement.

0:39:50.8 Junior: Well, we can think about the alternative, so change when it's obvious, what would happen if we just did that? If it's obvious, you probably waited too long. If it's obvious, it means that it's not obvious just to you, it's going to be obvious to everyone else, and so what competitive advantage is there in just doing what's obvious? None.

0:40:14.9 Tim: Right.

0:40:17.4 Junior: Nothing, is that going to be the roots of our innovation and progress over time? No. Can you be CEO of a Cisco for 20 years without changing before it's obvious. No, I don't think you can do that successfully, and so this helps us stretch and helps us build the muscle of courage, and we can do this even in small increments. If you wait too long, then I think you're doing what we talked about in the beginning, which is exploitation or execution, that's your home, that's your camp, and you're never venturing out of camp. And that can be a dangerous thing for you, and it can be a dangerous thing for an organization. Too many people do that in an organization and that's the inevitable end.

0:41:05.7 Tim: That's right. So Junior, the earlier you act, the more courage it requires.

0:41:12.0 Junior: Yeah.

0:41:13.5 Tim: And that's very important in organizations, because you're trying to be preemptive, and as you say, if something is pass the test of obvious-ness, then that means it's obvious to everyone, and so then if you act along with everyone, you're not being preemptive at all. There's no advantage to be gained, you're probably just running away from the forces of commoditization, at least if we're talking about strategy and competitive advantage, that's probably where you are. The forces of commoditization are chasing you and you're running away just like everyone else is, and so your strategy becomes me too. It's just... Well, I'm executing a me too strategy. Everybody's doing that, well, we'll fall in line. Well, pretty quickly, you're not going to have much of a competitive advantage.

0:42:09.0 Junior: So that's number two, change before it becomes obvious. Number three, embrace reality. Ernest Shackleton, we have talked a lot about Shackleton, the organization for... Over time. We have this fascination with Shackleton. I remember the first time I got a book about the endurance, I was young, and it fascinated me seeing those black and white photos in the middle of what to me was nowhere and without full understanding of exactly what they were doing, but I later learned, and one of the most fascinating things of that story to me is the ad, which essentially it was, that Shackleton publishes. This is what he says, he's an Antarctic Explorer, for context.

0:42:58.3 Tim: This is the newspaper ad, right? 

0:43:00.2 Junior: Yeah. Men wanted, for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success. This is one of my favorite pieces of writing ever.

0:43:21.6 Tim: Ever.

0:43:22.2 Junior: Ever. And guess what? He staffed the crew. People saw this ad and we're like, yeah, sign me up. I think that this is fascinating, there's so much to unpack here. And the lesson that I learn from this is that there is nothing more adventurous than the truth, there is no adventure greater than reality. He could have said, men wanted for a journey with high likelihood of success, money, fame, it's not that cold, we'll pay you really well, the darkness isn't that bad and try to blunt the reality and the truth of the situation, but there is nothing more adventurous than the truth. Embrace reality for what it is, because there is nothing that we could come up with that would be more creative or adventurous than what just happens through reality. And so I think embracing that and becoming... Just endearing ourselves to reality, describing things as they really are, I think is so important. And I think about that in terms of the way that we even recruit here at Leader Factor. Right? 

0:44:50.8 Tim: Yeah.

0:44:51.9 Junior: And at some points, they've been Ernest Shackleton newspaper ads, and you wanna be intentional about the reality that you're portraying.

0:45:00.4 Tim: Well, this has gotta be the most incredible job posting that I've ever seen. The unvarnished, unedited truth. In HR, in Human Resources, in organizations they use a term, the term is a realistic job preview, and what that means is that when you're looking at a job posting, a job description, that it really does try to represent the reality of what the job is, what the experience will be like. But we don't do a very good job of that. Recruiters don't do a very good job of that. It's hard to capture the essence of what an experience will be like, But Shackleton did in this case, yet this will stand forever as a monument to the unvarnished truth of what... And was the experience true to this job description? Yes.

0:46:00.2 Junior: Absolutely.

0:46:02.5 Tim: And even more so.

0:46:03.6 Junior: Yeah, well, as we're kind of exploring this topic, there are a few things that come to mind, one of them is a quote from Mark Twain, man, probably 1000 quotes from Mark Twain that are irrelevant. But he said, If you tell the truth, you never have to remember anything. And another way that we could put embrace reality is tell the truth. What more has to do with courage than telling the truth. So maybe that's another way to look at number three. Embrace reality or tell the truth. Number four, aim high. Robert Browning said, ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for? What I pull from this is the easy is not exciting. What do you pull from this? 

0:46:54.6 Tim: No, I agree, you gotta put some stretch into your ambition and your aspirations, and that's up to you, and that requires courage.

0:47:05.7 Junior: You put understand that the aim of life is not to consume, but to create and contribute. And it strikes me that a lot of what we've discussed today is existential, it has to do with the core of who we are, how we behave and what we're about. Courage has to do with all of those things. And courage is required in order to achieve really much of anything. Anything worthwhile is going to require some stretch, so aim high. What's the alternative to aim high? Aim low or aim reasonably in the middle. We know what exciting is there about aim reasonably in the middle, there's a place for that, and there are pieces of our lives where we should be conservative, but if we don't have this as an ingredient in the recipe, I don't think that we'll end up living a very fulfilling life, if there's not some aim that's higher than what we think we might be able to achieve.

0:48:06.2 Junior: So those are the four. Courage, if we wanna develop more, what do we need to do? We need to listen, we need to change before it becomes obvious, we need to embrace reality and tell the truth, and we need to aim high. Success has more to do with courage than it does almost anything else, it's the core difference between leadership and management, and the courage to listen, I wanna say one more time is a competitive advantage. If you wanna pull this into the business context and keep it strictly professional, this is one of, I think, the most important takeaway is that if you want a competitive advantage, you need to have the courage to listen. T. S. Eliot said, only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. That encapsulates a lot of my feelings about this topic, there's risk, and that's inherent in the proposition and something we need to embrace if we're to develop more courage. Tim, any final thoughts today? 

0:49:08.8 Tim: I do have one final thought that it wasn't in our outline at all, but going back to Hugh Nibley, he made a statement that I carry with me, he said Leadership is escape from mediocrity. And we have associated in an unmistakable way, I hope, leadership with courage. And so you could say that courage is escape from mediocrity. I really believe that in so many ways, and I think that that's the kind of life that we want to live and lead, not a mediocre life, so we need courage to escape that.

0:49:50.4 Junior: I love it.

0:49:51.9 Tim: That's a beautiful thing.

0:49:52.4 Junior: That is. Well, thank you everyone for your time and attention today. Thank you for spending that time to listen and engage and hopefully there was a dialogue going on in your own brain. We wish that we could be face-to-face with you, perhaps some day, but we do appreciate your listenership, and your attention. We're thankful for all that you do, the work you do in the world, and we're here to support you. As always, we appreciate your likes, your reviews and your share. So if you found value in today's episode, please share it with someone you think might find it valuable. Take care everyone, we will see you in next episode. Bye-bye.

[music]

0:50:33.5 Producer: Hey, Culture by Design listeners, this is the end of today's episode. You can find all the important links from today's episode at leaderfactor.com/podcast, and if you found today's episode helpful and useful in any way, please share it with a friend and leave a review. If you'd like to learn more about Leader Factor and what we do, then please visit us at leaderfactor.com. Lastly, if you'd like to give any feedback to the Culture by Design podcast or even request a topic from Tim and Junior, then reach out to us at info@leaderfactor.com or find and tag us on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening and making culture something you do by design, not by default.

[music]

Show Notes

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Episode Transcript

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

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How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

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