Courage Goes To Work

Reward Courageous Behavior, Not Just Successful Outcomes

It is important to differentiate between a successful outcome and a courageous act. Being courageous, by definition, means to take on challenges despite the potential for failure. Courageous workers do, in fact, fail. But failure is an outcome and courage is a means. Just because someone fails on the back end doesn’t mean he wasn’t courageous on the front end. Rewarding courageous behavior is just as important as rewarding a successful outcome.

Organizations shy away from rewarding behavior and attitude because such things are, due to their subjectivity, notoriously difficult to quantify and measure. How do you quantify, for example, whether someone is “positive” or “friendly” at work? Yet who would argue that such characteristics don’t matter at work?

Outcomes can be suspect. When an organization structures its reward system exclusively on objective behaviors, just because they are measure- able, it often runs the risk of reinforcing the wrong behavior. In such a system, a wretch of an executive, but one who makes big sales, can get away with being a miserable jerk in the office because sales are more quantifiable than jerky behavior.

Just because outcomes are easier to measure doesn’t mean that subjective behaviors shouldn’t be rewarded, too. As a means to greater organizational performance, courageous behavior will increase the likelihood of better outcomes. A successful outcome, though, shouldn’t be required before you confer “courage status” on someone. That would only squelch people’s willingness to try. What defines workers as being courageous is taking action despite being afraid or uncomfortable, not whether they attain a successful outcome.

What are the indicators that a person should be rewarded for her courage? Look for these signs:

• Did the person take action on a problem that others had avoided but that the organization wanted solved?

• Was the action a dramatic departure from the person’s comfort zone?

• Did the action stretch the person’s skills? As a result of being courageous, is the person prepared to take on bigger challenges for the organization going forward?


 Photo Credit:  Knezeves


Courage Goes to Work

About Bill Treasurer

Bill Treasurer is the author of The Leadership Killer, Reclaiming Humility in an Age of Arrogance, which he co-wrote with Captain John “Coach” Havlik, Navy SEAL (Retired). For the last two decades, Treasurer has worked with thousands of leader across the globe, at such organizations as NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lenovo, UBS Bank, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Learn more at:

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