Being Brave vs. Being Courageous: The Same or Something Else?

It takes a special kind of person to be able to confront risk and take bold action in the workplace. And perhaps it’s a “Captain Obvious” moment that a guy who has been studying courageous leadership for the last 5 years would murmur the following: Bravery and courage are essential characteristics for corporate success.

Even more important is the ability to understand the subtle differences between bravery and courage. On the surface, it might seem like there’s not much difference between the two. Both involve confronting risk and taking bold action to make progress. However, upon further examination, there are subtle nuances to each of these concepts that can help us better understand each unique act.

The Difference Between Being Brave vs Being Courageous

The difference between being brave and being courageous lies in the attitude with which we approach a challenge or risk. From what I’ve gathered, being brave is often an impulse decision, while unlocking courage involves intentional planning and action.

Bravery is often seen as taking on challenges head-on without fear, but it also involves recognizing potential opportunities and having the courage to pursue them despite any obstacles that may arise.

Courage, on the other hand, goes beyond just taking risks; it’s about having the conscious strength to face a corporate fear and act despite them. It means standing up for what you believe in even when there are consequences at stake, as well as taking on challenging tasks that may seem daunting at first.

Ultimately, showcasing bravery or courage are both about taking bold action. But being brave happens in the quick-hit moment, while being courageous happens in the long-game Marathon.

Being Courageous Happens in the Marathon

Where a moment of bravery is usually a response to one’s in-the-moment intuition, being courageous is processing hurdles that are out-of-the-horizon and intentionally leaping anyway. It’s easy to give up or quit when things get tough, but it takes true courage to keep going despite the odds.

Having a purpose or goal that drives you can help increase your level of courage—by giving you something to strive for, no matter the difficulty of the task at hand. Meaningful goals generate a level of passion and dedication that can help push you forward. And when leaders and their teams achieve the unthinkable, new ceilings are formed, which creates a leave of belief and confidence that makes it easier to be courageous again and again.

For my book Return On Courage, I recall interviewing Joe Bellezzo, the Chair of Emergency Medicine at San Diego’s Sharp Memorial Hospital. His elite group of Emergency Room Doctors may be the only team in the Western Hemisphere successfully bringing to life heart-lung bypasses in the ER. Joe shared with me, “The whole team now believes in this because we’ve accomplished something pretty remarkable, even if it’s just once or twice.” Belezzo continued, “If you really believe something can work, its chances of survival are much better.”

Having that belief is what will allow you to move forward, even when the odds are stacked against you. It’s about having the strength to fight for what you believe in, as well as the courage to seek out and seize opportunities that may seem impossible. It’s about having the will to succeed, even when circumstances seem bleak. Courage may not be something that you can measure; it’s an internal muscle that is developed over time.

Courage starts with Knowledge but also requires Faith and Action

It surely will be easier for you to take a risk if you are educated on the topic you need to be courageous about. Having the right knowledge and understanding of a situation is what allows us to embrace courage. Without it, we may choose to act recklessly or without sufficient thought.

Since you’re never going to be able to gather all the available knowledge on a given topic, at some point you must rely on that belief system of yours we’ll call faith. Faith is having confidence or trust in a person, thing, or concept without necessarily having complete knowledge about it. It is a belief and trust in yourself, your values, your goals, and the people who support you—all of which allow you to take risks with less fear and more courage.

But knowledge and faith are only part of the equation—you also need to take action. As Picasso once shared, “What one does is what counts, not what one had the intention of doing.”

Taking Action vs Just Talking About It

Whether you choose to trust your intuition (bravery) or take on long-game hurdles of a Marathon (courageous), the commonality is taking that leap. A popular Aesop quote says, “After all is said and done, more is said than done.” This quote serves as an important reminder that although we may have good intentions and talk a lot about what we are going to do, it’s only when we take action that real progress is made. This quote encourages us to be brave and courageous in our actions and it reminds me that “Good things come to those who wait” is nothing more than a fallacy.

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