Organizational Courage

May 17th, 2013

Courage is not just an individual trait but an organizational one. The leaders at Saddleback Church know this. When pastor Rick Warren was asked in a Catalyst podcast interview about what makes a healthy church, he mentioned courage as indispensable. He pointed out that every major advance at Saddleback required a risk in every major decision that scared him to death, but he did it anyway. As a result of their belief that God must be trusted and leaders must be brave, Saddleback’s leadership has named “risky faith” as one of their core values.

"Do the thing you fear the most,” Rick advised. “Leading with authentic honesty is required as well in taking risks. I have a church that would march into hell with squirt guns because we’ve modeled faith and taking risks. One common denominator in every church that God has His hand on is the faith factor. Leadership that is not afraid or fearful to believe God and take risks. Faithfulness is taking risks. If I’m not taking any risks, I don’t need any faith. Walk directly toward the things you fear the most. If I don’t need any faith, then I’m being unfaithful."

We’ve tried to model this characteristic at Catalyst. Our team made a decision to add our West Coast and One Day events in the same year. We went from one event to six in a short span without adding any staff. Our team wasn’t sure how we’d pull it off and worried that we might cannibalize our flagship gathering in Atlanta, but we decided to move forward nonetheless.

Our team recognized the success of our Atlanta event but sensed that we had more to accomplish. In making this decision, we risked failure. But had we chosen not to move forward, we felt we’d risk even more. To our surprise, our courage was rewarded. The One Day events filled up with more than six thousand attendees; we had thirty-five hundred attendees at our West Coast event; and the Atlanta gathering still filled up.

We desire for the Catalyst community to adopt a spirit of courage in work too. So in 2011, we chose “Take Courage” as the theme for our Catalyst West and Catalyst Dallas events. We desired to push people out of their comfort zones in order to provoke them to grow. So we placed a single question in front of our participants: “What if you stepped into all God has created you to be?”

We know that all leaders confront fear of failure and fear of the unknown. But living in that fear is destructive for a team and will kill momentum. We know that the road is long and the pressures are great. And in the face of these strains, we want our community to take courage.

At this event, Andy Stanley spoke about courage, which he believes is the most important trait a leader can possess. “Many, many great things have begun with a single act of courage. Throughout history and today. A person steps out and makes one courageous decision and that one domino starts many other dominoes falling,” Stanley said. “We have to step out and take that first step, and we may never know the ripple effect of that one courageous decision. Catalyst leaders—your decision to do something courageous may result in something greater than you ever imagined. Step out.”

Courage is not waiting for your fear to go away. We know this at the gut level, but many times fear is still what holds us back. Andy goes on to say, “Fear in leadership usually is connected to the uncertainty about the future. But uncertainty about the future is never going to go away. I tell leaders all the time—uncertainty is why there are leaders. Uncertainty gives you job security. Wherever there is uncertainty, there will always be a need for leaders, which means always stepping out into the unknown, always requiring courage.”

Author and speaker Nancy Ortberg took the idea of courageous leadership a step further, urging leaders to inject the personal trait into their organizational DNA. At our gathering in Los Angeles in 2011, she shared her conviction that creating a courageous culture is critical to succeeding: “Courage is not gender specific, and it doesn’t require an education, an age limit, or a résumé. Every single one of us is capable of transferring courage from God into our organization. Courage is the kind of virtue that without it none of the other virtues of leadership is possible. The only way to courage is through fear and obstacles, frustration and surrender.”

Recently, I had to let a longtime team member go. He was no longer a good fit for our organization as we moved into a new phase. We needed to make a change, but I was hesitant to have a tough conversation. I wanted to honor his time with Catalyst and the contributions he’d made over the years. But I also wanted to release him to pursue something he’d be better suited for. I struggled with having an already tough conversation because he was a friend and because he didn’t recognize that this needed to happen. I waited too long to tell him, putting it at the bottom of my to-do list every day and trying to ignore it, which made it worse.  When I finally did, he confronted me for sitting on it. His frustration was justified. I had let my own fears, insecurities, and emotions get in the way of executing courageously. Always confront the tough decisions or conversations head-on.

Here are some helpful tips for building a culture of courage in your organization:

Set scary standards. Your level of excellence and expectation for your product or service or experience should almost be something that is nearly unattainable. Safe goals are set by safe leaders with safe visions. Give your people a goal that scares them, and you’ll produce leaders who know what it means to overcome fear.

Allow for failure. The road to success is many times put together through multiple failures. Allow for and even encourage your team to fail as they attempt to succeed.

Reward innovation. Innovation requires taking risks. And bold risks create bold team members. Rewarding innovation will challenge your team to grow in their roles.

Pursue the right opportunities. Not every risk is a good one. Be disciplined. Aggressively pursue a few things that make sense. Say no often.

Learn to delegate. This is one of the most courageous things a leader can do. Entrusting others with important tasks requires letting go and relinquishing control. Liberally pass responsibility and authority to your team. If you want your team to be courageous, give them the chance to lead.

These elements aren’t easy to nurture in a corporate or ministry setting. According to our research, a mere 2 percent of Christian leaders believe “courage” is the trait that best describes them. You will likely resist it at every turn. As G. K. Chesterton said, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live, taking the form of readiness to die.” Courage mingles our desire to rush forward with a willingness to accept the possibility of being stopped in our tracks.

Yet those who desire to be change makers have no choice; they must exhibit courage.



Excerpt from Chapter 5 of The Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick. Used with permission from Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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