You might think of me as an organizational exorcist. Instead of driving out evil, my work involves driving out evil’s first cousin: fear.
Allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Bill Treasurer, and I’m a courage-builder. I’m the chief encouragement officer of Giant Leap Consulting, a consulting firm that’s dedicated to helping people and organizations be more courageous. Some of my work involves helping people understand, manage, and harness their fears.
Activating courage while afraid
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t claim to be any more courageous than the next guy or gal. To the contrary, I’m a bigger scaredy-cat than most people. That said, I did become acquainted with my fear in an unusual way. You see, I’m profoundly afraid of heights. I say that in the present tense, yet I’m an ex-high diver. For seven years, I traveled around the world as a member of the U.S. High Diving Team. Along with my high-flying comrades, I would scale a rickety 100-foot ladder, stare at what looked like a teacup below, hurl myself into the air, and careen at speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour into a pool that was only 10 feet deep. Bear in mind that I performed 1500 high dives protected only by a speedo.
It’s not so much doing a bunch of crazy high dives that qualifies me to write and speak about courage as doing them while being petrified. Former senator John McCain, who wrote the New York Times bestseller Why Courage Matters reminds us that “Courage is not the absence of fear. But the capacity to act despite our fears.”
In other words, courage is fearful, not fearless. However, courage carries on even while afraid. In fact, it’s the very presence of fear that makes courage.
Reflecting on the journey of Courage Goes to Work
Ten years ago, I wrote Courage Goes to Work to help me make sense of why a kid who had a profound fear of heights would move toward the very thing he was afraid of. The book helped me process my high diving experience, and translate it into tips and techniques that could be applied in the workplace. Each of us is called to face a few high dives in our lives and careers. Courage Goes to Work was written to help people get off their platforms of safety.
It became clear early on that the book was resonating in ways that I could have only wished for. About a year after the book was published, I received notice that the book had become the sixth-best-selling management book in China, legitimately qualifying the book as an “international best seller.” It had done this all on its own, without any infusion of marketing dollars from the publisher or rank-boosting gimmickry by me. One of the most rewarding aspects of the success of the Chinese version was seeing how they had translated the book’s subtitle.
They included the phrase “Break the Cozy!” I love that, even though it has nothing to do with the actual title or subtitle, it has everything to do with the book’s central message: we grow, progress, and evolve in a zone of discomfort, not a zone of comfort. To live a life of impact and meaning, the Chinese had it right, you have to break the cozy!
In the years since the book was first written, I have been fortunate to have worked with thousands of leaders and managers across the globe, sharing ideas and concepts from this book. To be clear, it’s not me teaching them. It’s quite the opposite. By engaging with these concepts and having in-depth conversations about the ways that courage connects to leadership, clients teach me.
Courage is the first virtue of leadership
So what have my clients taught me about courage? First, courage is the first virtue of leadership. My clients continue to confirm for me that courage is essential to great leadership. The leaders we admire most are those who are deeply principled, fiercely passionate, uncompromisingly truthful, and solidly authentic. Courage is what allows leaders to resist ethical or immoral temptations, consistently choose what is right over what is easy or convenient, and pursue opportunities that require assuming risk or overcoming challenges.
What else have my clients taught me about courage? A multitude of other organizational concepts rely on courage, too. Presenting to large groups with confidence takes courage. Handling difficult client negotiations takes courage. Giving candid performance feedback takes courage. Delegating to your direct reports and entrusting them with big tasks takes courage. Taking feedback maturely without feeling like your authority is being disrespected takes courage. Courage is like the operating system upon which other organizational concepts draw their stability, direction, and power.
Earlier, I mentioned that I see myself as an organizational exorcist because my work involves driving out fear. Perhaps a better way of saying that is that my work is to encourage courage. By putting the virtue of courage at the forefront of your leadership, you’ll gain confidence, composure, and resolve, inspiring others to seek those attributes, as well. The end result is more enjoyment of your role as a leader and more encouragement of those you are privileged to lead. Be courageous!
Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer at Giant Leap Consulting (GLC), a courage-building company that exists to help people and organizations be more courageous. He is largely regarded as the originator of the new organizational development practice of courage-building, a concept that was introduced in his internationally bestselling book, Courage Goes to Work.