Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When to exhibit Courage to Succeed?

Courage as a Skill.
By: Reardon, Kathleen K., Harvard Business Review,
Jan 2007, Vol. 85, Issue 1

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. Business courage is not so much a visionary leader's inborn characteristic as a skill acquired through decision-making processes that improve with practice. In other words, most great business leaders teach themselves to make high-risk decisions. They learn to do this well over a period of time, often decades.

Learning to take an intelligent gamble requires an understanding of what I call the "courage calculation" : a method of making success more likely while avoiding rash, unproductive, or irrational behavior. Six discrete processes make up the courage calculation: setting primary and secondary goals; determining the importance of achieving them; tipping the power balance in your favor; weighing risks against benefits; selecting the proper time for action; and developing contingency plans.

Faced with having to take a risk, most people make only one attempt: They ring the doorbell, and if a response is not forthcoming, they give up and go away. Those who accomplish their primary and secondary goals try knocking at the back door, tapping at a window, or even returning a second time.

Courageous managers prepare themselves for any eventuality, including worst-case scenarios.


Kathleen K. Reardon ( is a professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. Her latest book is It's All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren't Enough (Doubleday, 2005).

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