Are you courageous? Or not? I had always seen myself in the “not courageous” camp. Fortunately, I learned that courage is actually a muscle that you build over time. You have to push the muscle beyond its comfort zone, then you rest and recover, and try again. Like any muscle building activity, consistency and intentionality are key to build on your progress from week to week.
In his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin writes: “Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead… It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. It’s uncomfortable to challenge status quo. It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle.”
Hanneke Faber, President of Europe for Unilever, knows how to build her courage and the courage of her teams. Recently, she shared her insights at our Signature Program on building the courage muscle, which started with her experience as a young, competitive diver. She learned how to set the bar high, then work backwards to create the building blocks to get her there: “You don’t start on the 10-meter [platform], you start on a trampoline with a belt around your waist, and someone is holding you. Then, you progress to the 5-meter and do half of a dive. But someone is still holding you. You slowly build up with the help of others; your coaches and your team. Eventually, you can do the reverse two and a half with a twist.” Courage is having the mental toughness to persevere despite your doubts.
It's much the same in business. When Hanneke joined Ahold Delhaize to lead digital, she decided to set the bar high with a goal of quintuple (5x!) growth, and her manager thought she was insane. Externally, they committed to a huge growth projection, though not quintuple. Hanneke believes that you should aim high, then work backwards to create the ladder to get there. You set the vision, you engage your team, and you do it together.
Excellent leaders are often great competitors because business is a game you must play to win. You can’t play “not to lose”, or you lose ground as others advance. In Hanneke’s case, she took a new team to heights they did not know they could achieve. By designing the vision and utilizing the team to build the plan, they far exceeded the goal she had set.
Courage is a muscle you build little by little. Whether it’s with a business or personal goal, the more you test yourself, the stronger the muscle becomes. As Seth Godin relates, “If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.”
Where have you seen courage muscles developed? Share below in the comments.