It’s natural to think the opposite of being courageous is being cowardly. Perhaps in some cases, yes, but what Rollo May, psychologist and author of Man’s Search for Himself said was a more frequent occurrence is that the opposite of cowardliness is conformity. It’s reasonable that like-minded people often gather to share the benefits of community. In work places, we see it in the departments that enforce the absolutes in security and quality. To what extent do we see it on the non-homogeneous teams as well? It isn’t the absence of opinion that’s the issue; it’s what happens to our willingness to share the unspoken knowns out in the open. Over time, the encouraged behavior goes the way of spoken conformity with others. The opposite argument needs to also be posed and supported with evidence relevant to the issue, but the “worth it” factor can sway us to common thinking. There’s an inherent cost of doing so organizationally and individually. After all, the perils of the habit of group think have been well documented.
Think about the concept of what kinds of behavior is rewarded on the team. Are echoes of sentiment shared by others given higher acclaim? Implicit norms compel behavior in very real ways. It’s not so much that the team has disagreement on the direction as much as the way it is carried out. Is there anything unspoken that is being rewarded so it stays that way? This is where the courageous acts come into play. It is at the risk of being unpopular in breaking away from the team that takes the moxie to express the view that is not getting air time. Being courageous also means taking responsibility to manage the outcome in providing safety for the members of the team to absorb the contrarian thought and provide honest reaction to it. Only then can real discussion be had that is productive. It’s so easy to conform to the interests of a large group, being the opposite is the person with a courageous stance who is willing to ensure everyone doesn’t end up running off the end of the cliff.