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Marty Linsky
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Marty Linsky

Co-founder of the leadership-focused consulting firm, Cambridge Leadership Associates, Marty Linsky teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authors the advice column, Leadership House Call and blogs at Linsky on Leadership .

Teaching courage

When Jasper Schuringa leaped out of his seat and subdued the passenger who was trying to set off an explosive device he displayed two qualities: the courage to take risks and the willingness to act decisively under stress. The actual skill he displayed was almost certainly well within the capacity of many of his fellow passengers.

But the answer to the question, can those qualities be taught or are they inherent is "yes and yes."

Some people start out better equipped, and some need to learn. Some people seem to be wired for success in certain endeavors from a very early age and have a head start over their peers. For example, when I was growing up and when my children were growing up, there were some kids who seemed like "natural" athletes. Put them in a pool and they swam. Put them on a bike and they stayed up. Throw a ball and they caught it.

But quite often, even usually in my experience, when those kids were teenagers, they were not necessarily the best athletes. The reason was simple: They had relied on their "natural abilities" while their friends had taken lessons and practiced. For some of those friends, it took a lot of lessons and an enormous amount of practice to compensate for their inherent deficiencies, but with the will and commitment they were able to reach a much higher skill level than anyone would have predicted.

So it is for Schuringa's qualities. At Outward Bound and similar experiences, people learn courage, risk-taking, and decisive action under stress. The Army trains for these skills.

If the Cowardly Lion can do it, so can you.

By Marty Linsky

 |  December 31, 2009; 6:54 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Pardon me, but the Cowardly Lion did not display "courage, risk-taking, and decisive action under stress." He was a coward right to the very end, a snivelling, diaper-soiling disgrace to the feline profession.

Posted by: gilbertbp | January 4, 2010 11:28 AM
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Wizard: "You my friend are the victim of misguided thinking - merely because you run away from danger, you think you lack courage. You are confusing courage with wisdom."

Most people will take risks if it means self-preservation. This is not to belittle Jasper Schuringas' actions. He had to overcome the impulse to "let someone else handle it", or "not make waves", or my personal favorite "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down".

The Army has a need for courage, risk-taking, and decisive action under stress. My business experience is the opposite - unless you are a "yes man" or "team player", you basically have no career. How many management people in AIG or Goldman Sachs wanted to be told their CDO and "exotic financial instrument" computer models, which fueled their bonuses, were flawed? And what happens (far too often) to whistleblowers?

My point is the business culture, as it exists TODAY, will not tolerate courage. Change (that I'd like to believe in) is required.

Posted by: shadowmagician | December 31, 2009 7:11 PM
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