‘Creating a Culture of Courage’ in a risky post-recession landscape: An interview with Cindy Solomon
Nationally recognized speaker, consultant and executive coach Cindy Solomon knows a thing or two about courage. In fact, Solomon regularly works with companies to create a culture of courage that drives innovation in this post-recession business economy. That’s why she was surprised to find herself full of fear on the Demon Drop, a thrill ride in the Midwest that suspends riders and asks them to drop themselves from 153 feet.
Solomon remembers thinking: “How dare I get up and talk to leaders about risk and courage, yet sit here paralyzed by fear. So, after much internal debate, I pulled the cord and fell at 63 miles per hour…and it changed me…the way I worked. I started going after things and doubled the revenues of my business in three months.”
Solomon served as the keynote speaker for the 2011 Key4Women Forum in Anchorage for her second consecutive year. Her presentation, “Creating a Culture of Courage,” highlighted the lessons she has learned throughout her career and over the course of more than 5,000 interviews with entrepreneurs and business leaders.
The current business environment demands that new generations of leaders not only manage their businesses, but prosper in the face of new challenges and unknown conditions. These are the leaders that look to “Create a Culture of Courage” within their teams. Here Solomon shares some of her thoughts about courage, business and how success depends almost entirely on our ability to assess the situation and make difficult decisions confidently and quickly.
Tammy Stewart: Cindy, we are so pleased to have you back at the Key4Women Forum for the second year in a row. The title of your presentation is “Creating a Culture of Courage: The New Leadership Challenge.” What are your thoughts on the role courage plays in today’s new business economy?
Cindy Solomon: The current post-recession business landscape is often characterized by fear and consensus-building, so finding the courage to move forward in spite of risk, fear, and the possibility of failure is essential for the success of businesses. Companies are required to do more with less and our markets are changing on a dime, making it more important than ever for leaders to inspire and thrive on the challenge of new and unknown circumstances. Leaders who can guide their organizations with courage and confidence will surpass those who don’t in our new business landscape.
Tammy: Key4Women was founded to help women achieve success, knowing that they have hurdles and business behaviors different than their male counterparts. Why do you think courage essential to the success of women, in particular?
Cindy: When speaking to a room full of men or women about courage, I always start by asking members of the audience to raise their hand if they think they are courageous. Ninety percent of men raise their hands and about fifty percent of women raise their hands. Then, I ask the audience to close their eyes and I repeat the question. Eyes closed, the number of raised hands among men drops to about fifty percent and the number of raised hands among women rises to ninety percent. Women are taught to conceal their courage, putting us at a significant disadvantage out of the gate. So we need to dissect the fears that keep women from making bold decisions and how to engage the four types of courage to overcome those fears.
Tammy: Over the past five years, you have interviewed more than 5,000 men and women in business. What patterns have you observed when it comes to the way people demonstrate courageous behavior?
Cindy: Through extensive research, we have identified four types of courage: blind, crisis, role and core. While one type is no more or less useful than another, understanding which type of courage to employ in different situations can be especially beneficial to the outcome. It’s also helpful to know which type of courage you are acting with so that you may alter your behavior if necessary to gain a better and more productive outcome.
Tammy: What do those four types of courage look like, and how do you know which type to employ in a given situation?
Cindy: First is blind courage. Almost 90 percent of the entrepreneurs we interviewed noted that they acted primarily from blind courage because it enabled them to try new and different ideas with little regard for the consequences and therefore little attachment to a negative outcome. Blind courage feels exciting, like exhilaration of skydiving or testing a new product “in market.”
Second is crisis courage, which is the type of “life and death” courage that defines a heroic act in our culture. Yet it is completely instinctive and demands little or no conscious thought. Most of those who have had to act with this type of courage generally report they had no idea what they were doing. Crisis courage is also the most physical type of courage, involving copious amounts of adrenaline. Whether you use it to disarm a robber or disrupt your competitor, crisis courage is all about survival.
Third, role courage is an important type of courage for those in leadership positions today. This type of courage is typically supported by a belief that the action is “simply required.” The courageous acts themselves are the result of regular training and practice that enables the person to execute flawlessly, with little or no thought, when the need arises. This is a critical type of courage for organizations hoping to create innovative solutions for their customers.
Finally, core courage involves voluntary action as a result of introspection, personal values and commitment. It can enable you to speak up in a contentious board meeting, sever a relationship, change jobs or even start your own business. Whether you use it to blow the whistle when you see your values contradicted by your company or to make a bold midlife career change, core courage is about evaluation, intention and being accountable for the consequences.
Tammy: What are your thoughts on developing courage? Do you have to hit the DNA jackpot or can it be learned?
Cindy: I think courage can absolutely be learned. I tell people to work on courage like any other decision‑making skill. If you can begin to identify which type of courage you are acting from in different situations and analyze the type, or combination, of courage needed in various scenarios, you can begin to make courageous decisions with confidence. It doesn’t have to happen overnight. Start with small decisions and work from there.
Tammy: What routines have you observed among companies that have inhibited courageous employee behavior?
Cindy: One mistake many organizations make when under financial or competitive pressure is to cut training budgets first, when in reality, that is where courageous decision‑making skills are honed. Extensive training begets role courage, which gives individuals the confidence that they are making the best possible decisions in any given situation. It’s imperative that organizations give their employees the training they need to make those courageous decisions and help inspire courage in their team members.
Tammy: What characterizes organizations that excel at inspiring courage?
Cindy: Organizations that are able to inspire and lead with courage are those that successfully create a passionate purpose within their companies that employees, customers and other stakeholders can rally behind. These organizations engage their team in conversations regarding what can be done differently, where there is room for innovation, and what resources are needed for success. Instead of only praising the victories, these organizations praise the effort to try something different even if it fails. They understand that there are no failures, only steps to success.