Courage – Acting despite perceived or actual risk.
The silence was deafening. One of the worst feelings for a leader is to ask for feedback and hear nothing. In my case, I was frustrated. I always considered myself as someone who was open to feedback. But, now I had only silence from the team. This surprised me, since many people on the team had been my peers in the past. I didn’t understand it when they went silent as well.
I had always been open about wanting people to challenge my ideas and my assumptions. After all, I believed if a team was not willing to speak up and challenge the leader or the status quo, the team would deteriorate to mediocrity. As a leader, I did not want to lead an average team. I knew they were capable of greater levels. Our team had tremendous potential and were gifted in their jobs. I knew these were not average people. But for some reason, they were all silent.
Shortly after the meeting, Lori—a former peer and one of the most experienced people on the team—came to me with the reason for the silence.
At our previous meeting, I had argued with the team. Now, the silence made perfect sense. Nobody wanted to go through it again. As Lori’s words sank in, I realized there were two times in which fear had taken control of our meetings.
The first time was when I let my fear (and pride) control my reaction to being challenged. The second time was when the team let my past reaction stop them in the future.
As a leader, I failed to exercise Courage and Humility to listen to feedback without getting defensive. When my team stepped out in Courage and gave me their honest opinion, it was my Duty—my moral obligation—to listen carefully and seek to understand their perspective. The truth was, I had failed to set this example in the earlier meeting. As a result, the team was suffering for it.
As team members, they had exercised Courage to challenge my assumptions for the good of team—yet because I acted defensively, they chose to not do so again in the future. If the leader is off base, somebody on the team still needs to take action. Now—this may be a challenge. I know it was for my team, and it will be for yours. This is why it is important for Leaders of Character to exercise and lead with Courage first.
But, it’s hard! I know me. I am pretty good at convincing people my ideas are the best way to get things done. Sometimes, I will be so adamant with my position, I will speak without listening.
When Lori confronted me privately, I knew I needed to take the first step to restore the trust between me and our team.
My first step was to apologize. I admitted to my team that my ears are my most underused tool in my leadership tool box. I let them know it was my goal to work harder at listening without getting defensive.
Next, I asked them to also do something for the good of the team.
I asked them to continue to give me feedback and told them “I promise to keep working on my reactions to feedback, if you keep bringing me that feedback.”
For a leader, our first instinct may be to get defensive. But we need to exercise Courage and truly listen to the negative feedback we get from our teams. This may be our second instinct, but that is the instinct that will build trust with our team.
Multiple points of view allow a team to move from being average to becoming elite. When a team takes ownership from within, and is willing to act despite perceived or actual risk, that team is on the road to building trust, buy-in and long-term success.
Our team accomplished all three. Thanks to Lori challenging me and the team’s response after I apologized, we became the team to beat. But, we did not become a Team of Courage, until the leader at the top and a leader from within both began setting the example for the group by exercising Courage themselves.
Dig Deep Questions:
What is your first instinct when somebody challenges you? How could you go with your second instinct?
Who do you need to exercise Courage with this week?
Exercising Courage takes work and is a lifelong journey. We want to partner with you as you practice the habit of Courage daily, which is why we have created FREE tools and resources to guide your journey.
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