Book Review: The Courage to Act

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The Courage to Act
by Merom Klein and Rod Napier
Davies-Black ©2003
239 pages

Five Factors of Courage To Transform Business

In the heat of a crisis, leaders and organizations need courage. Courage, according to organizational experts Merom Klein and Rod Napier, is reflected in what you do when you are put to the test and face real moments of truth. They explain that courage is built on five factors that build on one another — candor, purpose, will, rigor and risk. The authors write that courage is the byproduct of the convergence of these five essential factors.

As examples of leadership and corporate courage, the authors tell the ancient story of King Sejong, who had the courage to envision a unique language that Korea could embrace and use to overcome rampant illiteracy, a language that is still used today. His courage to challenge the status quo and encourage a new offering is credited with providing power and independence to Korean society, and raising the Korean national consciousness to an unprecedented level of freedom and democratic achievement.

As a more modern example of courage in the face of uncertainty and fear, the authors point out the courage that corporate officers of Johnson & Johnson embodied when they took a major financial risk and pulled the entire supply of Tylenol off store shelves after seven people died fromingesting an Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule that had been tampered with and laced with cyanide. They also cite WorldCom and Enron as proof that courage was not present when officers at these companies refused to admit that their companies were losing money and not posting a healthy profit.

Respect Authority and Dignity

The first element in the authors’ courage equation is candor, a rare commodity that represents the courage to speak and hear the truth. One key to displaying candor is to respect other people’s authority and dignity by providing feedback in private.

The second element of courage that builds on candor is purpose. The authors write that stepping back and focusing on the big picture can help anyone begin to find the courage to pursue lofty and audacious goals.

Next, according to the authors, leaders and organizations who want to embrace courage must have will. The courage to inspire optimism, spirit and promise comes from building confidence, keeping pessimism at bay and creating pride among teammates.

The next part of courage, the authors write, is rigor. Organizations that embody rigor have the courage to invent disciplines and make them stick. The authors write that rigor is a matter of judgment and discretion, consideration and self-discipline. Rigor is also a matter of recognizing how your actions affect others in the system.

The last part of the courage equation is the ability to risk. Risk, the authors explain, is the courage to empower, trust, and invest in relationships. If your risk quotient is high, there’s no doubt you’ll do the right thing.

Mastering the Courage to Act

To help organizations and leaders understand what constitutes courage and how the courage to act can be mastered, the authors borrow from the principles of courage that are embraced by the U.S. Marine Corps and the Israeli Air Force. These “Action Learning Principles” include:

1. Know what you are preparing for. Before training starts, you should know the moments of truth that will test the team’s courage.

2. Apply it. Before you invite people to the training session, and before you design the training, think about the applications that you want to see.

3. Provide feedback. Courage is personal, so feedback must be personal as well.

4. Make it active and interactive. Simulations, structured problems, and practice drills get people up and involved, and they hold the attention of impatient participants.

5. Value, honor and bridge diversity. The test of courage often comes when those with more insight or more strength have to work with those who don’t see solutions as quickly or who lack the strength or knowledge necessary to solve a problem.

6. Build a code of honor. A code of honor is an ethical and moral imperative that has to be lived.

7. Make learning fun. It’s easier to raise tough issues and stick with the discussion when you are able to laugh at the dilemma and see the humor in the situation. ~

Why We Like This Book

The authors of The Courage to Act open up their team-building tool box and offer numerous examples and fascinating case studies of leaders and organizations they have helped to embrace courage in their daily lives. By blazing the path to courage and guiding readers through the difficult terrain that leads to it, the authors have created a manual to help leaders reap the benefits of courageous teams and organizations. Their useful advice and time-tested tips shed revealing light on an organizational concept that is vital to success.~

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