In a casual lunch setting, 10 managers sat around a conference table awaiting the definition of their fate that would roll of the lips of their General Manager. For the lucky ten, their manager had tendered his resignation and would be leaving the company in two weeks. This meeting would give the managers some idea of who would be the replacement. Would it be someone from inside the group, outside the group or from their parent company?
The GM spoke first, stating that he had already submitted his plan, although the decision would have to be approved by someone in the corporate office. His first question to the group opened the floor to discussion and suggestions on how they would like to see the transition go. Now before I go on with the story, this is what many of us call an opportunity. If you were one of the ten and wanted to be considered, you might ask if the position could be filled from within the group. This would imply that you are willing to step up to a higher level of authority and challenge. Back to the story….
No words were spoken. Everyone sat with a blank stare on their face. Several of these managers had previously expressed concern and even the desire for promotion. Yet, when the opportunity came up, they didn’t seize the chance to influence the direction of the GM’s decision. Without any rebuttal, the lunch discussion turned into a broad sweeping clarification of the company’s bigger issues. The door was closed and the opportunity vanished just as fast it had appeared.
While research suggests that levels of courage are influenced by character traits, particular states of mind and the values, beliefs and social forces acting on a person, it is the states of mind we’ll focus on here. There are four key states that can be used to improve your level of courage; that is, self-efficacy, means efficacy, state hope and resiliency.
Self-efficacy is the confidence you have in yourself and your ability to achieve specific outcomes. Looking back at our ten managers, did they all lack confidence in their own ability to convince the GM that the position should be filled from within? This could explain their silence. To avoid such situations, courage can be improved by mastering two aspects of self-efficacy: skill mastery and situational control. By learning new skills, one can build self confidence. My approach to this is constant personal development, achieved through reading books, taking classes, attending seminars and so on. Over the years, I’ve overcome the fear of the unknown. This allows me to improve my situational control, or how I attach emotions to unique situations. For example, the meeting with the GM should have been a positive experience as it provided an opportunity to improve one’s position. The more you learn to place a positive impression on such situations, the easier it will become for you to engage in them.
Means-efficacy refers to the belief that the tools you have available are sufficient for the task at hand. If you believed your speaking skills were nothing short of excellent, stating your desired position for the replacement of your boss would have been all too easy. You would have avoided offending anyone in the room while ever so gently identifying yourself as the ideal candidate for the position. Building means efficacy is aided by studying yourself to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve illuminated your weak spots, you can turn them into strengths by developing them as if they were new skills; thereby, increasing your confidence and self-efficacy.
State hope is the belief that the task is possible and that you can complete it in the required time frame. If those ten managers believed that the manager had already made his decision, since he did state he had already submitted his plan for the replacement, their actions would have been inline with this belief. They would have considered it a waste of time and possibly an opportunity to hurt their career rather than improve it. State hope can be improved by modifying your attributions to such events. It’s similar to the movie with Jim Carey, entitled “Yes Man.” Too often we reduce our state hope to a level that essentially keeps us from developing any confidence. Surely you know a person who always thinks things are impossible and too much trouble to deal with. You can overcome this disability by drinking more Redbull, as Jim Carey does in the movie. This will drive you to action and away from procrastination.
Lastly, Resilience is the ability to bring yourself back from the brink of disaster. Improving reliance is accomplished through happy thoughts or what I call the FDH mindset (Fat, Dumb and Happy). That is, every task is something you need to do so you don’t dwell on whether you achieve success or failure, you just do it and celebrate the sense of accomplishment of having done it.
Success, to me, is the intersection of preparedness and opportunity. When opportunity crosses your path, you need a little courage to grab hold of it. While these four mindsets don’t give you all the answers to growing the courage of a lion, it does give you some specific targets for improvement. Good luck and always remember, if you see an obstacle in the path of your career, run over it.