When we talk about training, three outcomes typically rise to the top as the most important: knowledge, skills and attitude (although some talk about abilities instead of attitude, depending on the source and the purpose). Theoretically, we can train for the first two, but we have to hire and promote for the third.
Training for knowledge is memorization and testing, and training for skills is practice and feedback, but training someone for attitude isn’t quite so cut and dry. While we may not be able to train for attitude, we can certainly influence it. Attitude is built through experiences, perceptions and situations. One can change perceptions through positive experiences, and improve attitude, if in fact an improvement is required.
Knowledge is learned information, and skills implement knowledge. However, with the wrong attitude, skills alone won’t cut it, and at that point, knowledge does not matter. If you look at the state of the American workforce, and the fact that according to Gallup Corporation employee disengagement in the U.S. is at 70 percent, you begin to realize that while many people know what to do, and even how to do it, they either “don’t feel like it” or are not ready or able to give their best when they walk into the office each day.
Attitude has many emotional facets and is usually reflected in behaviors and actions. So, a poor attitude will produce a low, dysfunctional work ethic, with a low degree of collaboration and innovation. There is a subset of this population who are disengaged not because they dislike their job, but because they are lacking in one vital component within themselves that enables them to fully contribute and generate the results for which they were hired. This component is courage.
When we think of courage we think of fighting lions, saving kittens and running into burning buildings. The Merriam-Webster definition of courage is “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” It’s not just about danger, it is about a mental strength in the face of difficulty. Courage enhances our abilities, it strengthens our mindset, enables us to believe in ourselves and effectively utilize the knowledge and skills we have acquired. So, what happens when courage is low or non-existent?
Courage is knowing what needs to be done and foraging despite feeling anxious or afraid. Courage is composed of two factors: competence and confidence. Competence comes from knowledge (knowing what to do). Confidence is gained from skills (knowing how to do it by applying the knowledge). Think of it like this: Attending a live concert and being able to sing along with every song is knowledge; and getting up on stage and playing the guitar is a skill. But if there is a fear of performing for a crowd, then a lack of courage to leverage the knowledge and apply the skill will result in a lack of performance.
Having a skill (e.g., selling, negotiating, debating, presenting to a group, participating collaboratively in a meeting) is either learned from experience or from a formal training that allowed for a solid knowledge transfer to develop into a skill. However, if someone cannot use the skill to its potential, it is squandered. So, what quells the courage to use skills? A few things have the potential to do it.
Culture of Fear
A fearful, unsafe organizational culture is one of the most common killers of courage. People can be courageous outside of work, but a territorial manager who clearly doesn’t want feedback will cause people to keep their mouths shut. People ask themselves, “Should I be the problem-solver and contribute what I was hired to contribute, or should I keep my mouth shut so my manager is not threatened by my experience?”
People don’t quit jobs, they quit their managers. In his article “People Leave Managers, Not Companies,” Victor Lipman says that challenges arise when employees are not working as productively as possible. A fearful culture will prevent collaboration and innovative thinking, and that can be devastating to the overall success of an organization.
Lack of Transparency
People often say, “in my honest opinion,” as if they had been untruthful until that point, and that verbal graffiti is being replaced by phrases such as “in full transparency…” However, is the team really transparent? The hard part about transparency is that if you say you are transparent you really need to be. Combine this with the fact that in many cases someone is only using the transparency concept to be abrasive and giving it an acceptable name.
True transparency embraces courage because it requires all to know where they stand at all times. Transparency requires people to speak up and contribute with respect and honesty. Ray Dalio’s “thoughtful disagreement” and “radical transparency” is proof this approach works. If the goals of the organization is the goal of the conversation, people should not take feedback or contrary opinions personally, in fact they should expect them and encourage them. Transparency is who we are in a perfect world and it is what we must be if we are truly going to be collaborative and innovative.
Vision, Mission and the Goals of the Organization
It may seem that these would be three separate items, but in fact, when it comes to courage, each one of these leads to the next. Without these three components in place, it is difficult to maintain courage and utilize learned skills. Understanding the vision of the organization allows employees to feel a part of something bigger than just their own contribution. Being aligned with the mission enables them to understand how the organization views itself, and where it is going. Being aligned with the goals of the organization means they can understand what their job is and how it actually contributes to the bottom line every day.
When these factors are clear, an ownership attitude is enhanced, the kind of thinking people have when they are working from their heart, not just showing up to put in their time. If someone sells a product for the sake of selling, they are simply providing products. However, if they understand what that product does or means or how it helps their customer, they see a responsibility to provide a required solution for a customer – it is more than just a job.
Salaries paid to people who are merely showing up, or to eight people in a meeting when only two are talking, or those with creative ideas who fail to bring them forward are costing corporations billions of dollars every year. Bring courage to the table, nurture it, expect it and foster it within your teams and organization. It will yield more fulfilled employees, lower turnover and increase both top- and bottom-line results.