Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Courage in business doesn't take b**ls

In the current Harvard Business Review, Kathleen Reardon of the University of Southern California made me think twice about courage.

Conventional wisdom would say that courage is an intrinsic personal capability, allowing one to disregard great risk in order to do the right thing. And in matters of life and death, it is often so. But business is different from a rescue mission or a valiant battle.

In fact, says Reardon, business courage isn't in your gut, but in your brain. She states:

In business, courageous action is really a special kind of calculated risk taking. People who become good leaders have a greater than average willingness to make bold moves, but they strengthen their chances of success--and avoid career suicide--through careful deliberation and preparation.... Most great business leaders teach themselves to make high-risk decisions. They learn to do this well over a period of time, often decades.
I think it's useful to make this distinction between personal courage and business courage. First, it allows for the proper separation of, say, the soldier who led her troops through a dangerous mission and the CEO who sold an underperforming division even though people didn't want him to.

Second, it allows us to focus on those things we can do to learn and apply business courage--in Reardon's thinking, setting goals, weighing risks/benefits, timing, managing the power structure and having contingency plans.

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