There’s a noticeable deficiency of courage in the business world. It is absent from business models, boardrooms, company cultures, and mission statements. Courage has, in fact, gone out of style and out of practice—and many businesses are far worse for it. Indeed, unlocking courage, when truly embraced and understood, can be your competitive advantage and ultimate X factor.
For my new book, RETURN ON COURAGE, I interviewed many bold business leaders, along with some of the bravest people on earth. They confirmed the importance of courage for business success. However, I also learned that courage can be wildly misunderstood. People often think of being courageous as taking unacceptable risks – like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. But that’s just a myth.
Here’s what Jill Avery, a senior lecturer and marketing professor at Harvard Business School had to say. “In business, a world where strategy and analysis are valued, courage can be misconstrued as reckless or rash. Like it’s foolhardiness.” She explained that courage often gets misinterpreted as lacking strategy. It leads many to equate courage with making careless decisions that aren’t grounded in wisdom.
Courage does not mean stupidity. Courage is not a suicide mission. In fact, courage should always start with knowledge. Let’s consider a skydiver as an example of what I mean. Let’s assume this person is a member of the Red Bull wing-suit skydiving team. Most people have a hard time understanding how this jumper in a wingsuit can take that unfathomable leap. For many of us, the word crazy may come to mind.
But this skydiver is not reckless. He and his team have done their homework to make this jump. They’ve relentlessly studied the weather and recognized what atmospheric conditions need to be in place to be successful. They know what forecast could arise that would require them to cancel. They have practiced, visualized, and studied the lay of the land. They know precisely how long they plan to be in the air and have their landing spot pinpointed exactly to ensure success. This team has thoughtfully strategized their jump for maximum success.
When I spoke with another top business leader, Domino’s President Russell Weiner, he described courage as “jumping out of a plane with a parachute, and that parachute is the data that you collect in preparation. It’s the people that you surround yourself with. It’s the product that you are bringing to market. It’s all of that.”
In other words, in business, courage is leaping with a plan. Yes, sometimes plans change in the air and, no, there is no guarantee of success. But it’s inevitable that if you forever stay the course without a plan for the variables that will come your way, you will surely not be able to keep going. And the repercussions can be fatal.
The sooner you realize that courage is not an aimless leap but rather a calculated decision that starts with knowledge, the better prepared you can be for tomorrow.
RYAN BERMAN is the author of RETURN ON COURAGE and the Founder of Courageous, a creative consultancy that develops Courage Brands® and trains organizations through Courage Bootcamp. Berman also founded Sock Problems, a charitable sock company that supports causes around the world by “socking” problems and spreading awareness.