July 30, 2020

Getting into Good trouble: A Lesson from Congressman John Lewis on Managerial Courage

Today, we honor Congressman John Lewis, civil rights hero and Exemplary American, who served us here in Atlanta for over 33 years. In his 2014 Emory Commencement, he charges, “find a way to get in the way. You must find a way to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.”

What Congressman Lewis is talking about here is challenging the status quo, and that takes courage. In an organization, this means Managerial Courage - do your managers have this?

To grow managerial courage, you need to address your manager’s biggest leadership fears. These apprehensions can be a highly rational combination of challenging job responsibilities and a lack of experience. On the other hand, for many leaders, managerial fears can be far less rational.

So, what are the irrational and rational fears that leaders face? We discuss them below, along with some practical hints on how to overcome them.

Imposter syndrome (fear of being exposed as “fraud”): According to Sandeep Ravindran, nearly 70 percent of individuals will experience signs and symptoms of the impostor phenomenon at least once in their life. To overcome this fear, managers must re-frame their negative thoughts into positive ones. Madhuleena Chowdury asks, “Can we think about roses when we are about to go bankrupt?” We need something far more powerful than positive thinking. Gabriele Oettingen’s mental contrasting visualization tool will help your managers get where they want to be by reflecting on both the good and bad and choose your actions accordingly.

Fear of Making Bad decisions: Remember that even the most celebrated managers make poor decisions. The special sauce that makes a manager successful is persistence to continue pressing forward towards his or her goal. To enhance your decision-making skills, consider an executive coach or attending a premier formal leadership development program.

Fear of failure: Fear of failure can become chronic. To break the pattern, review undesirable outcomes to extract key learnings and lessons for the future. Develop the habits to think more positively. Whenever your internal dialogue shifts to criticizing yourself, challenge those negative thoughts. Reflect on whether the view is rational and accurate as an interested third party would do. Most often the negative thinking will not stand up to this scrutiny. Finally, reframe big, audacious problems as challenges to be enjoyed.

Fear of Risk-taking: Great leaders learn and grow from taking carefully calculated risks. To negate the fear of risk and minimize chances of failure, leaders research the subject or issue extensively to before making a decision. Managers should keep in mind, however, Mary Kuentz’s words that “Confidence is built through action, not waiting.” At Performex, our coaches and our facilitators emphasize the need to take “baby steps” forward, no matter how small the actions are, rather than getting stuck hoping the risk will somehow mitigate over time. Baby steps create progress and yield momentum and confidence to continue to move forward.

Fear of Being Unequipped to handle a new and complex position: The fear we managers struggle with most often is the rational thought that they might not be prepared for new and complex positions. The paradox is, managers become great by learning from their mistakes, not by “being perfect.” Learning from mistakes is often slow and costly process, but with the guidance of great coaches, every mistake becomes an opportunity to learn. 

Don’t just survive, find ways to get involved and stand up for what is right. Empower your managers to be courageous and get into good trouble. Today, we thank those who have made sacrifices so we can thrive in the world they helped build. 

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