According to recent articles, more than half of the businesses that once appeared on the Fortune 500 list have disappeared in the last twenty years, and the rate of departure is increasing. I’m convinced this is happening because most companies don’t have the courage to keep up with the escalating rate of change in the market today. Business, as usual, is no longer good enough.
From my years of experience in big companies, as well as startups, I can attest that the courage to promote change is not something often seen, or even encouraged, in most employees or executives. Rather, the opposite is usually true; it’s better to play it safe, rather than risk being wrong.
The problem is that most business people associate the word “courage” with excessive risk, to be left for individuals who are impulsive, foolhardy, or even crazy. I like the more appropriate definition of courage, and how to use it in business, in a new book, “Return On Courage,” by Ryan Berman, whose leadership consultancy has trained many brands how to do it right.
He outlines a five-step process which I recommend for every business leader who wishes to train himself, his team, and his organization to take thoughtful, calculated risks, whether it’s about developing a new product, implementing an innovative strategy, or simply voicing an opinion that upsets the status quo:
- Utilize your core values as decision-making filters. To survive these tumultuous times, you must first look deep within to find your guiding principles. These will help steer you away from decisions that might look attractive for short-term success, but detrimental for the long term. Courage is being able to live these values and stick with them.
For example, if you and your company profess and live a commitment to environmental sustainability, like Patagonia, you will only add products that won’t harm the environment, even if other options appear to be available for a lower cost or quick availability.
- Use your leadership to create and rally believers. Every strong company has leaders who create believers, by setting the vision, garnering trust, and speaking the truth on all issues. You need to make believers out of your board, employees, prospects, as well as customers. These people will then solidify your courage and support needed changes.
The alternative is fake believers, who may appear to support you in good times, but will challenge every change decision, or work against you behind your back. Fake believers will erode the motivation and productivity of all teams, to the detriment of your company.
- Transform business fears into courageous solutions. Proactively seek out product, service, industry, and customer perception fears rather than suppressing them. This will allow your company to conquer the most complicated change requirements in a timely fashion with solutions that eliminate many of the difficult progress-halting hurdles.
For example, most experts believe that Blockbuster knew and feared the movement to streaming movies, but suppressed it. They marched firmly ahead with their existing model, rather than reinvent themselves in the face of customers demanding change.
- Commit to an authentic and memorable purpose. Showing a commitment to a unique rallying cry, such as SpaceX with Elon Musk “putting a man on Mars,” will make your company memorable and increase acceptance, both inside and outside the company, of courageous changes and innovations that seem to be consistent with this purpose.
- Demonstrate a consistent propensity toward action. There is no stronger element of leadership than demonstrating the courage to take consistent and regular action on your ideas and innovations. Some people and companies are prone to extended studies and slow implementations of change. Time is of the essence in the business world today.
From aspiring entrepreneurs, I often hear lengthy dissertations on a “great idea,” and how much this idea could be worth. I have to remind them that investors see ideas as worth very little – the value is all in the implementation and delivery. The same is true of required innovations as the market evolves.
With the steps outlined here, you too can build and lead a culture of courage in your organization and your company. It will allow you to keep up with a dynamic market, and stay ahead of the host of competitors that are less courageous, more risk-averse, and prefer a “play it safe” strategy. That’s the real definition of courage in business.