I am just completing the reading of a great book, The Society of Timid Souls, a true story about a group of professionals that met during the Second World War to help each other learn to deal with their personal fears and anxieties at work. Discovering their existence led the author to do her own global research on what courage is and how people learn to face it.
With each chapter I realized how fundamental the issue is for each of us, sometimes on a daily basis. Are we able and willing to confront our fears and be brave or are we paralyzed by them? Do we comprehend that what might seem to be avoiding a small fear can have larger implications for us and those around us?
Let me share two recent experiences in my coaching work that might explain my point and encourage you to think about your courage in a candid and constructive way.
Both are managers with responsibility for teams. The first one discovered about a year ago that his wife has Stage 4 Ovarian cancer. He is in his early thirties and they have small children. As we spoke he described how their counselors had helped them see that this was the "new normal" for their life. The harsh reality was that they could choose to curl up, grieve and wait for the likely outcome; or they could choose courage, live each day to the fullest, use work and each other as sources of comfort and stability, draw strength from others.
He explained how choosing courage was the best thing they could have done and that by doing so people around them had found their own courage and learned something about the power and importance of love and caring.
The second person had an enormous need to be liked. He was friendly, engaging and caring. Some people took advantage of those traits on a regular basis. In our discussion he described how important it was for him emotionally to preserve the peace and be "a nice guy." As we explored the positive aspects of his pattern, we transitioned to getting him to think about the counter-productive aspects of it.
I asked him how he thought his strong, reliable performers might feel when they saw their co-workers get away with less than best effort with no consequences because he wanted to "their nice guy, the manager." We explored the trap of creating learned helplessness with you rescue people all the time. And we confronted the need for him to show courage by simply learning to say, "No" when necessary.
Neither timidity nor courage are always the stuff of movies or drama but the choices we make when confronted with situations that make us fearful do shape the storyline of what we call life.