Cultivating Courage

If I challenged you to do one courageous thing today, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  

Is it a big sweeping gesture? A bold statement?  The very act of getting out of bed?  Having a direct or difficult conversation? Asking for what you really want?!

Maya Angelou, one of my favorite poets, sages and all around incandescent beings has observed that “Courage is probably the most important of the virtues, because without courage you cannot practice any of the other virtues…”   With that as a gentle gauntlet thrown down, how do we go about cultivating it?


Courage is at the source of our ability to think, speak and act honestly. It’s looking at barriers – self-imposed or externally generated – and figuring out how to leap over them or destroy them once and for all.  It’s having the guts to ask for something we dearly desire, act generously with no expectation of reciprocity, stand up for what we believe or name our darkest worries. 

Examples abound in our professional and personal lives. If you are running a non-profit organization or company, it takes courage to ask for investments or donations.  It also takes courage to start something, stick with it in the face of naysaying or hurdles and/or when to cut your losses.  And, any time you need to ask for something you really want (love, a raise, a pass) or convey something difficult – such as displeasure, disappointment or, in the workplace, dismissal.  Great leaders, and great people, know that they can’t be or achieve anything worthwhile without this not-so secret ingredient.

At its core, cultivating courage takes practice.  This is good news!  You really can develop this muscle if you decide it’s a worthwhile goal (hint: it’s always worthwhile). It begins with getting very clear about what is bothering/agitating/motivating/challenging/thwarting you.  Then, ask yourself what you can take responsibility for doing, and what you need to ask for from another. 


So – let’s go to the virtual gym and start Identify a couple of things that are right in front of you this week that bring up a sense of concern or queasiness.  If the interaction were to go as well as humanly possible, what would happen?  What would you say or do?  How would it be received?  What would you learn or impart?  How would you feel at conclusion if it were a rousing success? 

By doing the mental lifting early on, you can start to not just envision but embody the path to a desired outcome.  Courage is taking the first step, then the next, then the next on the path to serious strength.