Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How to Execute with Courage

CourageSupermanj0433233 He said he needed to talk with his direct reports about conflict. So Harry Stonecypher, then CEO of Boeing Corp., interrupted my training at the Boeing Leadership Center to tell his team that they needed to be more direct when dealing with difficult issues. He reminded them that high-level executives are paid to tackle tough problems, not to be overly concerned about being liked or criticized. He concluded by urging them to lead with courage, conviction and candor.

Here are several tips to help you do the same:

1. Identify your "spear-in-sand" issues. To stand up for what you believe you must be clear about what you to believe. Write the answers to questions such as, "What is most important to me? What are my highest values and ideals? What is worth fighting for?"

2. Use your tombstone as a steppingstone. Your legacy echoes through time by the actions of others. Write your own obituary to gain clarity on what to you want people to think, say, and do because of you. When you are clear about why you are here, you'll find the courage to stand up for what you believe in.

3. Start small. If you shrink from taking a stand on difficult issues, practice in small safe environments first. Speak up when friends are having a political debate. Challenge someone who cuts in line. (I recently did this at Costco and at the airport.) Disagree with colleagues at a meeting without being disagreeable.

4. Involve others. If you need to make a tough decision, invite others to the table after you have gathered data, analyzed the alternatives, and selected a few options. Ask your direct reports, peers, boss, and perhaps even your customers for their perspective. You gain the benefit of their counsel and a greater probability that they will support your final decision.

5. Respond promptly. Notice I didn't say react. A reaction seldom involves reflection. To respond promptly means letting others know that you know there is an issue, and that you are dealing with it. Communicate your goals and timing for addressing the issue, and keep key stakeholders informed with regular updates.

6. Communicate the why and how. After you have made a difficult decision, make sure others know why and how you made the decision. The “why” behind any decision is the steam behind the engine. People will be fired up to follow through if they understand why you chose a particular course of action. The "how" provides knowledge about the process you went through in making the decision. If people don't believe in the process, they won't commit to the outcome of the process. Transparency breeds loyalty.

These are a few keys to help you execute with passion and courage. Which one's will you use? Do you have others that work for you?

Keep eXpanding,



Anonymous said...


Not exactly related to corporate matters a recent conflict arose amongst friends which put me in the middle as the "host" of our next get together. Seems there is a lot of different politcal opinions which were really causing division, disharmony, and open animosity...I received phone calls and emails citing what can't be disputed as the prevailing opinion that the primary transgressors were a fault and maybe i could not invite them to the next gathering...i was almost won over.....than thought NO....this is tension which needs to be understood and I’m not going to be won over by majority...or maybe even "mob" consensus....I called the my friends who were at odds with most others and heard their side of things and felt so much better for reaching out and being up front... The invite to our next gathering will go out to ALL with the understanding that diversity is welcome....


Dave Jensen, Leadership Expert said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your story. Good for you for reaching out and inviting all parties.

Accessing free will, thereby CHOOSING not to be bothered by other's opinions is critical to leadership success; as is remembering that no one puts us in the middle, we choose to be there.

Thanks again,