This is the second post in our series on the Five C’s of Change, which includes four friends and one foe of change. In the first installment of this series, we explored Conviction which is essential in  a change agent. In this blog, we will explore courage and how this plays out in organizational change.

Courage and Conviction Need Each Other

Courage requires Conviction. It is akin to resiliency — we draw on our sense of purpose for it. It is nearly impossible to be a valiant leader without being girded with strong beliefs or convictions. Knowing something is the right thing to do or knowing we are called for a purpose allows us to boldly move forward despite great risk. Otherwise, when there is resistance (which always accompanies change), those without deep convictions often fail to stand their ground.

Conviction without courage to act on it is like faith without works. It is dead on arrival. It is simply something internal that doesn’t manifest into anything tangible. In an organization, that is of no value. Leaders need both conviction and courage to make an impact.
Courage is Needed When the Going Gets Tough

We observe leaders demonstrating courage in both small and big tasks, including when:

  • Someone isn’t performing as expected
  • There is pushback from all levels about an organizational change
  • Hard decisions are required (which may result in employee or customer loss)
  • Change in operations is required (shift in mission or product/services)
  • New skills need to be learned

Courage May Require New Skills

Confidence is connected to competence. This is true for courage as well — it is much easier to have courage when we have the skills to move forward. You need to be battle-ready, which means not only having the right armor but also having practiced in it so that it is comfortable and you are strong on the battlefield.

This means taking an audit of what skills/abilities/knowledge you need to acquire and practice as you prepare for the upcoming change. Examples could include knowing

  • How to have difficult conversations
  • Your BATNA (best alternative to not agreeing) — which you want to know before entering hard discussions
  • Your blind spots so you have the emotional intelligence and a plan to manage them
  • An outside perspective, as sometimes we can be too close to a situation and having a coach or mentor to guide you through the challenges ahead can save time and energy
  • Your alliances, as it is easier to have courage in community
  • Your strategic options and tactical plans
  • Where your values fit with the organization

Courage Has Costs

Having courage may result in a gain or loss of

  • Social or political capital
  • Career options
  • Short-term revenue
  • Employees
  • Friends

When leading with courage, you need to be ready for results that may start out negative but end positive. For example, Chick-Fil-A had the courage to stand on its convictions to be closed Sundays. While many people still think this is crazy because they lose a big revenue day, many more people (including me) applaud this stance and go out of their way to support the business. In late 2018, the chain surpassed Taco Bell and Subway to become the third-largest chain by sales, despite having a significantly smaller footprint and a shorter week in operation.

Planning is Essential

Think of it like skydiving, where you are equipped with a backup parachute as plan B. It still takes courage to jump, but if circumstances change, you are ready to pivot. Once you jump, you are all in. You can’t get back on that plane, but you can pull the other cord if needed. Your landing may not be on the same target, but you will likely get close (and in one piece).
Courage isn’t blindly going forward — it is moving forward strategically and knowing when you might need to shift to a plan B. For example, if you know your courage of conviction in a new policy might result in a loss of employees or customers, you need to be ready to quickly adjust for that. It might mean hiring new team members, reducing expenses, or finding new revenue sources. If you have a plan for that in advance, you aren’t afraid of taking the hit if it comes in response to your conviction and courage.

Values Alignment Matters

When values aren’t aligned, advocating for change is usually not only unsuccessful but also emotionally exhausting and detrimental to your career (unless you are the CEO/owner). When there is a misalignment, we typically advise clients to find an organization that better fits their values. Otherwise, an employment change eventually happens anyway but may be harder to navigate.

Once you are sure you have the courage and conviction down, you need to start thinking about communication — the next essential friend of change, and the topic of the next blog in this series.

Stay tuned for future posts as we explore the rest of the five C’s of change.



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    Loriana Sekarski is founder and president of BONSAI, a consulting company that transforms leaders (and businesses) into the best version of themselves. As a leadership coach, Loriana teaches leaders how to hone soft skills, spur workplace engagement, and achieve untapped levels of potential. Outside of BONSAI, Loriana serves as an adjunct professor at Washington University’s graduate student program. Additionally, she's fine-tuning her passion project, TakeFlight, a division of BONSAI that launches organizations, churches, and marriages to boldly live out their purpose by leveraging their strengths to achieve their God-given destiny. TakeFlight has just developed Revealing Hidden Shackles, an innovative curriculum that examines domestic violence within the Christian community.