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Courageous Women



Are You Too Big for Your Britches
(Or Are You Just Demonstrating Feminine Courage)?

By Sandra Ford Walston, The Courage Expert

Few women regard facing an average workday as a courageous feat. Why? Traditionally, only facing fear under perilous circumstances is labeled courageous. Running into a burning building to save a pet, pushing a pedestrian out of the way of a speeding car, or tackling a robber in flight are readily accepted instances of courageous action.

However, courage actually has a much deeper meaning and a more relevant role in today’s business world, especially for women. Let’s consider some very real possibilities:

  • A woman has been passed over for a promotion and is upset. How can she find the courage to speak up and state her qualifications?
  • A woman has made an error in a corporate proposal for a customer. How can she find the courage to be vulnerable and admit her mistake?
  • A woman learns she has an illness that might jeopardize her career. How can she face her fear and summon the courage to affirm her determination?
  • A woman is continually undermined by covert bullying (cold shoulder, rolling the eyes, purposely not including her in conversations). How can she report these painful subtleties when the actions are being dealt by her female boss?

While none of the above examples are perilous, life-threatening events in the typical sense, they are all common occurrences that challenge women and test their courage every day. When women exhibit courage in the workplace, whether it is speaking up to express an unpopular viewpoint or taking a professional risk to take on a project no one else wants, they tap into a valuable personal reserve. 

Courageous women “step up” to the next level. In other words, “She who hesitates before each step spends her life on one leg.” As a result, they process choices more quickly and take action more readily. They design their lives applying courage actions skills rather than letting outside influences dictate who they are or what they should be.

To fully understand the importance of a woman’s courage in the workplace, we must first go back to the word’s origin. The word “courage” comes from the French word corage, meaning heart and spirit. Throughout history, women have always acted from their heart, but male notions of courage as heroic have diminished recognition of feminine courage. These workplace losses accumulate, obscuring an equal playing field for women and causing them to doubt their own courage. Without this vital virtue, a key part of a woman’s spirit is lost.

Unfortunately, when working women do demonstrate the behaviors of courage, they’re commonly labeled with some unflattering word to keep them “in their place.” On a performance review, they may receive comments such as “too strong,” “too determined,” “too driven,” or “too aggressive.” In other words, “too big for their britches.” The irony is that for men, these descriptions are often desirable, but for women, such adjectives are viewed as negative. However, these stereotypical limitations can actually benefit women by inspiring them to increase their courage quotient by acknowledging and honoring their individual courageous behaviors. When a woman learns to uphold her courageous nature in the workplace, she can gain the equality that has been eluding her. How can a woman detect and regain her courage today? Watch for those defining moments that reveal whether you sold your soul or claimed your courage.

Being mindful of defining moments

Being passed over for a promotion, not receiving a fair raise, being spoken down to, or having your boss publicly reprimand you are a few examples of career defining moments. Recognizing these workplace incidents is the first step to reclaiming your courage.        

Unfortunately, many women misinterpret these moments and respond in defeating ways when the correct choice would be to declare their courage. Preferring to tiptoe through these situations they may believe these types of issues are “part of the job,” or they may feel that in some way they deserved the unfair treatment. They become the martyr in order to keep the peace or maintain the status quo, which ultimately stifles their courage further.     

If you have difficulty recognizing the defining moments in your own workday, ask yourself which events make you upset, angry, uncomfortable, embarrassed, or cause you to acquiesce. Chances are those are the times you will want to display your newfound courage.

Facing the ultimate truth

When you determine a defining moment is occurring, you can “step up” and take control. By doing so, you’ll be able to face the truth of the situation and do something about it, whether that means confronting a supervisor or rectifying a situation with a customer. If you don’t take the appropriate actions, you’re holding yourself back from achieving your professional best. 

One sure way to take control of your future is to begin searching for a new opportunity especially if your current position doesn’t correspond to your principles. All too often, women assume that finding a new job will be difficult, so they remain complacent, mistakenly believing—or simply hoping—that things will change. Yet, in reality, situations seldom change by themselves. They only change when you take the initiative to make the situation better. To show courage, decide when it’s time to face the truth or prompt a change, and then be eager to discover the next opportunity, and step up.

Holding yourself accountable

Courageous women are 100 percent responsible for how they design their lives. This includes taking credit for accomplishments when merited. When receiving a promotion or a pay raise, women have a tendency to say, “Oh, thank you for this opportunity.” This is not courage. A truly courageous woman responds to the promotion or initiates a pay raise by stating the qualities and strengths they bring to the table and describing how they intend to use those talents to better the company’s results or the project at hand.  Overcoming limitations by changing your  “courageous will”

Finally, women everywhere can foster courage by gaining control over the blueprint that governs their belief system. Being “lady-like” is one societal perception deeply imbedded in the psyche of our culture. The woman is focused on others and is reserved, supportive, considerate, and compliant. Such limited aspirations paralyze women and cause them to flounder about in the traditional deep-rooted definition of courage: being physical, daring, or representing valor. A woman’s desire to be “accepted” can undermine her personal demonstrations of feminine courage.

How can you change your courageous will? Look for female role models that display workday courage. Role models are imprints for change; they light the path. As more women recognize and subscribe to the behaviors of courage, such notions will no longer be deemed unusual. Other women will be encouraged to display their courage, and their collective behaviors will ease or even erase the idea that “by nature, women are not courageous.” When women work together to advance courage in the workplace, they find the strength and determination to hurdle the daily workday challenges that confront them. Eventually, the unsung stories of courage and the current denigrating of courageous women will be replaced by an acceptance and admiration of courage in women just as it is in men.

About the Author

Sandra Ford Walston is The Courage Expert and innovator of StuckThinking™. She’s an organizational effectiveness/learning consultant, speaker, corporate trainer and courage coach specializing in understanding courage behaviors, courageous leadership and individual personality and leadership styles with a focus on tricks and traps of the human condition. The internationally published author of bestseller COURAGE (2001) and winner for the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Sandra facilitates individuals and groups in discovering the power of everyday courage. Her follow-up book, STUCK: 12 Steps Up the Leadership Ladder (2010) is for all working women regardless of age or position who wish to learn how to employ courage actions at work. Her third book,FACE IT! 12 Obstacles that Hold You Back on the Job (2011) is not about how to get a job, but about learning to apply courage techniques to overcome work-related barriers to self-fulfillment.

Sandra is qualified to administer and interpret the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and is a certified Enneagram teacher. Sandra has been published in several periodicals such as Chief Learning Officer, Training & Development and Strategic Finance. She provides skill-based programs for public and private businesses, including Caterpillar, Inc., Nolte Engineering, Hensel Phelps, Auburn University, Procter & Gamble, Farmers Insurance, IBM, Wide Open West and Hitachi Consulting. Sandra instructs at the University of Denver Graduate Tax Program. She offers a free courage newsletter and posts a courage blog, and she can be reached at www.sandrawalston.com


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