Jelly legs, Courage and Compassionate Cultures

I love walking in nature and exploring new places. Last weekend I was lucky enough to spend a few days soaking up the glory of Autumn in the Lake District.

The picture you can see on the blog post is one of elation and joy – of feeling on top of the world. It truly felt like I was!

If you’d seen the picture 45 minutes earlier, it would have looked very different- jelly legs, hyper ventilation, frozen with fear whilst scrambling on all fours up a steep incline – something I never thought would be me as we set off on our day’s hike. 

As other walkers bounced past us waving hello and smiling broadly, I felt stupid, embarrassed, pathetic. But the fear and its manifestation in my physical being were real. 

My husband showed me care, gave me a genuine get out, “We don’t have to do this, we can always turn back…”. He gave me space. 

I sat down, took some deep breaths, wiped away my tears and gave myself a bit of a talking to. 

I did not want to let my fear leave me with regrets. I’m fit and healthy – there is no reason I couldn’t do this. I didn’t want to deny my husband the experience either. It mattered to him, so it mattered to me. I faced the fear, got up and got on with it. It took those few minutes of space to find my courage. That view and how I felt afterwards made everything worth it.

In a recent podcast conversation on Courage and Optimism with his friend and warzone reporter Guy Raz, Simon Sinek explores the subject of Courage. They discuss 2 things; courage as something external that we find when we know we have a safety net, and courage that is inspired in the pursuit of something meaningful, something that matters to us. 

It may seem odd to conceive as courage as something external, but the concept that something like a parachute gives us the courage to jump out of a plane made sense to me. In my mountain adventure, my external safety net was my husband.  My internal inspiration came from the pursuit of joy and in creating special memories to look back on together. 

The podcast goes on to explore “a much higher level of courage”, the courage that comes from facing into uncertainty; when we cannot control the impact of what we do, and when we become vulnerable to the judgement of others. When we know we need to have that difficult conversation but avoid it because it threatens our desire for harmony. 

When I think back over my life, the really tough stuff for me hasn’t been freezing with fear and jelly legs halfway up a mountain but much more every day and commonplace. It has been when I have needed to do or say something where I didn’t know the outcome, or where I have worried it may stop me being liked or at worst rejected. At its most basic, it has meant that I have walked away from meetings unclear, unaligned and unconnected because I haven’t had the courage to say I don’t understand or agree. At its worst, I have allowed myself and others to be treated in ways that are simply not acceptable because I have been too afraid to confront the offender head on; afraid to disrupt the status quo – afraid of being dis-liked, ousted, rejected. On too many occasions being in fear at work has caused me to seek harmony over conflict, to stay quiet when I wish I had had the courage to have spoken up. 

From the many conversations I have on this with our clients, colleagues and our friends, I know I am sadly far from alone- fear of conflict is all too common in workplace cultures today. Just think for a moment about the impact our lack of courage to have these important conversations is having on productivity and performance! 

“We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear.”

Brene Brown

If we are to create compassionate workplace cultures – places of joy, where people thrive and grow- courage is an essential ingredient, and so very necessary if we are to make this world a better place. 

We need to move away from dominant workplace cultures where a command and control style of leadership breeds fear and causes our workforce to metaphorically “freeze” and to create workplace cultures where courage can thrive. The courage to stand up, to demand truth, to have difficult conversations, to ask for help, to change.

If we are to create workplaces that survive and then thrive, we need to build our capability to create, innovate, communicate and connect. We have to create environments that value diversity, encourage difference of opinions, that make it safe for people to speak up, to give and receive feedback, to question the status quo, to have brave conversations. Creating cultures where standing up for what we believe in does not compromise our ability to belong. 

Compassion is not weak or soft, it is courageous, caring, strong and effective

So what can we do to cultivate cultures where we foster the courage to have these brave and necessary conversations and to take the steps that propel us forwards? 

Let’s go back up my mountain for a moment. 

What I had there were 4 things: Psychological Safety, Meaning, Care and Some First Steps

  1. Psychological safety:  On my mountain my husband made it okay for it not to be okay

I had support and trust that gave me the confidence to admit and work through my fears. 

As leaders and colleagues, how well do we make it okay for our people not to be okay each day? 

  • Meaning –a desire to make meaningful memories, propelled me forward at a time of real personal fear. 

How are our conversations helping people see the meaning in what we are here to achieve in order to help them us through the uncertain months ahead? 

  • Care: Through looking after myself, I knew I was fit and healthy and in a good physical place to face into this challenge.  I was also with someone who showed me great care, which put me in a better emotional place. 

How often do our conversations focus on the functional process through working through things and how much time do we give to the emotional well-being of the people in our care? 

  • First steps: The encouragement to see the immediate next step, helped me conquer the mountain. 

In our performance conversations, how often do we make it all about the final outcome, and not discuss how we might enjoy the journey step by step? 

Creating and thriving in compassionate workplace cultures that celebrate uniqueness, embrace diversity and foster a spirit of collaboration requires courage. But, like that mountain view, is going to be worth it. 

To find out how compassionate your culture is and what you can do about it, take our diagnostic  and if you’d like support in developing more compassion in your workplace do get in touch through our contact us page below

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