What is Courage and Why Does It Matter in Strategy?

Digital strategy entails answering simple questions:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. How are we going to get there?
  3. What’s blocking us?
  4. What capabilities do we need to build?
  5. What management systems?

In earlier blogs I’ve talked about defining Aspiration such that we create a pull for achievement – (and thereby transcend the limitations of the carrot & stick.) Now I’d like to talk about how we stay the course.

Achievement is hard, achievement hurts. How do we sustain our drive in the face of hurtles, hassles and hammerheads? The ancients defined Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Courage. (A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues by Andre Compte-Sponville is an excellent treatise on Courage and the great virtues.)Courage is the most admired, and rightly so. (Marcus Aurelius called in Fortitude). Breakthrough – transcendent, enduring achievement – requires all the Cardinal Virtues, and courage most of all. In fact, Courage makes the other virtues possible.

So what is Courage? It is not fearlessness. Courage is the capacity to overcome fear. Courage, like our Aspiration, entails engaging both the head and heart. Courage without the head is simply foolhardiness. Courage means you understand the risks, and do it anyway.

Is courage a virtue under any circumstance? I would say, it is not. Is a courageous terrorist admirable? Courage is only admirable when exercised in the service of others, of the greater good – and of your Aspiration.

So what does this all mean for the practicing leader?

We are in the midst of a brutal pandemic and that entails. Clarity of purpose and the Courage to stay the course have never been more important. Therefore, define & communicate your Aspiration clearly. Seek to develop Courage in yourself and your team. Courage is our fuel, our lifeblood. Understand that achievement hurts, and that you will fall down many times. Fall down seven times, get up eight times.

What does Courage look like in the organizations facing Digital disruption? Courage entails looking at your existing customer journeys honestly, feeling the customer’s frustration and hassle in a direct way.  Courage means making problem visible and committing to fixing them.

The former entails creating a Transformation Lighthouse or equivalent. In other words, a ‘safe room’ where we can develop a shared understanding of what’s not working – without recrimination or scapegoating. The latter entails taking stock of our capabilities, both personnel and technical, and committing to a detailed plan to close the gaps. All of which is impossible without tenacity, fortitude, pluck, resolve, daring – courage.