Without courage, companies, like individuals, live in a place of permanent uncertainty and weakness. Without bravery, perseverance and honesty there is little hope for change in circumstance and zero chance of achieving one’s full potential. Those who live in a state of fear wait endlessly for others to make the next move and operate with uncertainty, reacting to others. They are relegated to miserable vulnerability and insecurity.

Courage is the essential ingredient for both survival and growth, and as my hero Winston Churchill so eloquently put it, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because it is the quality that guarantees all others.” It’s evident at birth and embedded into the first steps that an individual or a company takes, or it’s found as a result of hardship and circumstance. Without courage we go nowhere.

As a transformational force, courage contains three uncommon sense ingredients:

  1. Bravery: standing up for what is right in difficult situations; acting in spite of disapproval; acting against one’s own natural inclinations and facing fears.
  2. Perseverance: continuing along a path in the midst of opposition and perhaps failure; pursuing a goal in spite of obstacles; suppressing the desire to give up.
  3. Honesty: integrity in all areas of a company or individual’s life, being true to oneself and one’s role in the world across circumstances.

Whether you’re a CEO, an executive, a manager or a student, you need to have the courage to make tough decisions about what next. The following are six uncommon sense recommendations for making courageous choices for new thinking:

    Spend any time around a five year-old, and you’ll hear them ask “Why?” constantly. Their lack of self-awareness enables them to absorb information and seek knowledge constantly. As we grow up and enter the workplace, lacking knowledge is, for many, a sign of weakness. The result is people often sit in meetings and, rather than admit they don’t understand the subject, they’ll fake it, and waste a perfect opportunity for learning. There’s something very liberating about admitting you’re the dumbest one in the room and acting like a sponge.Do you:

    – Have the courage to ask why?
    – Have the courage to be the dumb one in the room?
    – Have the courage to ask about actions that need exploration?

    It sounds like such obvious advice, but stand back and ask yourself if you honestly stand apart from the competition. Think about American Airlines, Delta, United and Continental—cover up the logos and you get the same absolutely average experience with nearly no differentiation. But imagine the difference it would make if American Airlines started translating what being American means into the customer experience or imagine if United started actually uniting in meaningful ways with its passengers.Do you:

    – Have the courage to lead and not to follow the competition?
    – Have the courage to decide who and what you want to be?
    – Have the courage not to take the easy way out?
    – Have the courage to be bold, brave and take charge?

    People are inherently good and, deep down, they want to make a difference in the world. That’s one of the reasons consumers are relating so strongly to brands that stand for something greater than the product itself. Look at the meteoric rise and brilliance of Apple in all of its beautiful forms. It has revolutionized how we think about computing, music, and phones among other things. Apple is a brand with a fanatical following and has significant opportunity to affect change on any issue it chooses to engage in. But what have they done with this permission to stand for something significant? Arguably this hasn’t impacted their balance sheet or the ravenous demand for their products, but imagine what difference they could make if they stood for something?Do you:

    – Have the courage to define values that are directional and meaningful?
    – Have the courage to make sure your values are clear, memorable and actionable?
    – Have the courage to measure your performance and that of your people against your values?

    Companies and individuals are generally people pleasers, with the compulsion to say yes. Peer pressure, fads and demand often force decisions that create a lack of conviction, complication and confusion. As the US economy took a tumble, luxury automotive manufacturers could have opted to create more economical models that suited to the demand of what the masses could afford. Instead, the likes of Bentley and Ferrari stuck to their guns, weathered the storm and remained true to who they are and the consumers they cater to.Do you:

    – Have the courage to be totally comfortable with who you are?
    – Have the courage to say no to distractions?
    – Have the courage to make tough choices?
    – Have the courage to say what others are thinking?
    – Have the courage to fire people who are under-performing and don’t fit your organization?

    It takes a large bucket of courage to admit you’re going down the wrong path and then to change direction, especially when the entire category and the rest of the business world has their eyes on you. In 2009, Starbucks hit one of the most challenging times in their history because they had expanded rapidly and, in some places, over-saturated the market. They lost focus on the core coffee experience by adding too many unrelated items and the obvious onslaught of the economic downturn affected them as well. Howard Shutlz had the courage to return and immediately work to fix, simplify and change the direction of the business. He took it back to the brilliant basics and looked hard at what the business needed to change. Bulldog Drummond had the privilege of designing and facilitating an executive “What Next?” summit to help guide a conversation to chart the future of the brand. Mr. Schultz had courage to change paths and the results now speak for themselves.Do you:

    – Have the courage to take responsibility for mistakes made under your leadership?
    – Have the courage to change direction when it’s not working?
    – Have the courage to kill products that don’t fit but are making money?
    – Have the courage to ask for help?

Back to Winston Churchill’s eloquent view that if courage is the first of human, and therefore corporate, qualities (as it guarantees the success of all others), now’s a good time to evaluate how courageous you are. Measure whether you’re brave, persistent and honest, and then do the same with your department and the company you’re a part of.

Can you be more courageous?

Shawn Parr is the The Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, IDEO, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen and World Vision. WWW.BULLDOGDRUMMOND.COM