Emotional Courage


How often have you been in a meeting and thought to yourself, “No… I won’t bring that up. I’ll let it go. See if it gets better…. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way.”

Chances are you’re not.

In all likelihood, if you are thinking about it, someone else is likely wondering about the same thing. It’s just you who’s got the clarity and the guts to choose to voice it… or not.

Leadership Skill

Emotional courage has been flagged as one of the critical challenges in leadership development programs. In his blog post for HBR (“Why So Many Leadership Programs Ultimately Fail”), Peter Bregman defines it as follows: Emotional courage means standing apart from others without separating yourself from them. It means speaking up when others are silent. And remaining steadfast, grounded, and measured in the face of uncertainty. It means responding productively to political opposition — maybe even bad-faith backstabbing — without getting sidetracked, distracted, or losing your focus. And staying in the discomfort of a colleague’s anger without shutting off or becoming defensive.

He goes on to advocate integrating courage work into real time activities. By finding opportunities to practice courage, we become, in effect, more courageous.

Practicing Emotional Courage

How do you become more emotionally courageous? Here is what you might consider when you find yourself in a situation that requires it:

1. Notice Your Self-Talk. Take stock. What are you telling yourself? Are you choosing to buy into it? This is where it begins – whether you choose to speak up or not.

2. It’s Not About You! Remind yourself that speaking up is not about your worth as human being. This is about the organization and its mission. What about the mission are you invested in? This is how we stay focused and grounded in our response.

3. Get Curious. Be the observer for a moment. No matter what the response is to your question or comment, you maintain an internal response of “How Fascinating!” From there, get curious. You might ask: “I notice it got really quiet. What is going on?” This way, there is more likelihood to stay in the discomfort of things without shutting down.

Emotional courage is courage of the deepest kind. Ultimately, it is about not giving up on yourself or in what you believe.


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