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Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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Courage in the workplace

A leader must have courage; a leader must act in a courageous manner and so on.

While this is true, it is only part of the story about courage and the workplace. As we shall see, the virtue of courage must run throughout an organization or company – from bottom to top – in order for it to function at the highest level. 

Courage defined

Courage comes from the Old French corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” In other words, courage is an innate, internal quality that resides within the core of your being.Courage is further defined as: “The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” Again, we see the word spirit. 

Courage is foundational

Courage is associated with such words as fearlessness, grit and power. It is experiencing fear, yet pushing through it to achieve your desired result.  Some say courage is the thing that underlies every other human quality. Without it, we cannot rightly be honest, dependable, generous or trustworthy. Courage is the foundation upon which all other virtues are built.

Courage and fear of reprisal

Why is so little courage seen in so many companies these days? In my estimation, it is because the leaders of those companies have fostered a culture where dissenting voices are discouraged and opinions that threaten the status quo are thoroughly silenced. With this climate of possible retaliation before them, team members are fearful of speaking up, sharing their thoughts and voicing their values. Fear of being the first one out the door at the next downsizing has stopped many ideas dead in their tracks in the workplace.

Courage, vision and openness

The first step in harnessing your courage is to develop a vision that represents your authentic self and goals, and aligning that vision with the business and its goals. This is true for the executive, manager and employee in the workplace.  Development of a vision that all members of the team can buy into depends on the openness of a company or organization. An open-minded company allows for discussion, sharing, brainstorming and even dissenting views. An open leader sees the value of the knowledge and experience of everyone in the room, including managers and employees. The leaders’ openness allows for others to work from a place of courage. They can step up without fear and lend their thoughts to the discussion. The ability to have that courage becomes transformational, both for the person sharing and the company or organization.

Openness leads to the ability to shape and form a vision. It is a vision wrought in courage which gives it power. That vision, brought about by the courage of the people involved in its development, will be the driving force carrying the company forward into new and exciting areas.

Benefits of courage in the workplace

Some of the benefits derived from demonstrating courage in the workplace include: high morale; commitment to the group mission; ownership; responsibility; momentum; effective; and stronger sense of purpose.

Here’s few questions that all members of your team can ask themselves regarding courage. Use these questions to help you determine what you can do to step up, step out and find your courageous voice.

–          What is your vision for the business/group/department?
–          How, specifically, can you be more courageous in your role at work?
–          What communication skill would help you become more courageous?
–          What tangible benefits will arise from your courageous action?

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Boost your bottom line…Invest in your people

As the economy slowly recovers, it’s no secret that companies would like to boost productivity and profits. Many think the best way to do so is to slash costs.  Well Joan Blades co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where, and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line, thinks otherwise.   She suggests paying your employees more.

In her article she writes of the growing body of evidence that shows that companies that pay fair wages, and offer flexibility and training to entry-level and lower-skilled employees, do better than those that don’t. A vast number of businesses mistakenly assume that their lowest-wage workers are easily replaced or not worth investing in, but those that do the right thing soon find that they’re doing the right thing for their bottom lines. It’s time that this becomes a business norm.

Certainly, in tough times, higher wages, profit-sharing and training seem like optional perks. But here’s the other side of the story: When you invest in people, they respond by performing well. In her rigorously researched book, Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder, Jody Heymann presents a well-documented lineup of businesses that have flourished in large part because their management practices include respecting and empowering their lowest-paid workers. Jenkins Brick, a major U.S. brick manufacturer in Alabama, credits higher wages and profit-sharing with increased productivity and quality, as well as reduced turnover and lowered accident rates. Dancing Deer, a Boston-based high-end baked goods company, opens the financial books, and makes training and stock options available to all employees because they are convinced that this gives the firm a competitive advantage. Specifically, management credits these practices with improving sales, boosting productivity and helping them attract talent.

Perhaps a more well-known example is Costco. The company pays more for an entry-level position than Sam’s Club (Wal-Mart‘s wholesale branch), gives even part-time workers at least a week’s notice about their schedules and offers all employees the option of getting on the management track. Costco also makes thousands of dollars more per employee than Sam’s Club, which suggests their investment pays off. Costco is so convinced that its policy is sound that it has kept paying better wages than rivals, even as Wall Street has pressured the company to conform to industry standards. Trader Joe‘s is another large company known for paying its entry-level workers well and benefiting as a result.

Yet despite the strong evidence we have that an employee who is paid fairly and treated respectfully will significantly outperform an employee who is underpaid and ordered around like a child, too many employers are unable to resist the apparent bargain of paying less per hour or buck the traditions of an authoritarian work culture. They tell themselves that standing at a cash register, working in an assembly line, or answering phones is so simple that anyone can do it — that workers doing these jobs can easily be replaced. And this shortsighted approach costs them. Simple math does not capture the human dynamics.

As an employer, I can personally bear witness to both the quantifiable and the more subtle benefits of treating everyone in the workplace with respect and dignity. The people who answered the phone and greeted visitors at our front desk at Berkeley Systems, the software company I co-founded, were at the bottom of our pay scale, but we knew that they also created people’s first impressions of our organization. If they felt downtrodden, the first impression of our business was likely to be merely adequate. We needed the first face of our business to be enthusiastic and helpful.

At, an advocacy group working for greater economic security for families, we offer flexible work hours, ask each member of our team to contribute to our decision-making processes, and look for pathways for our entry-level positions to grow into roles with more responsibility.

It’s time for employers to see the big picture and embrace the benefits of creating a great workplace for all of their employees. They will be rewarded with a happier, more productive and robust workforce, a better bottom line and the satisfaction of participating in the transformation of modern work culture to a culture of dignity.