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Take on the World: Building Your Courage Quotient

Posted By Robert Wray, Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Noted lecturer and author Blythe McGarvie (Senior Lecturer, Harvard Business School) cites her worst fear as being ignored. A way to combat that fear? Courage... the empowering theme of her opening keynote speech.

Blythe explains courage as facing facts and fears, and taking action. She adds that it’s highly important not to "wait until you’ve learned your business. Just doing it demonstrates the courage we need to exercise."

It’s also crucial to figure out what it takes to fit in and stand out. Blythe pointed out four kinds of leaders:

Conventional leaders are pleasant, but don’t make a difference.

Compliant leaders are not participating with passion… they’re in and out at 5 o’clock.

are willing to question but often ignored. People in their twenties are often challengers… and some don’t learn to fit in, making them the "squeaky wheel.” They might not reach their full potential.

leaders are not afraid to stand out and speak up.

Blythe’s hero is Margaret Thatcher, her true example of a courageous leader who knew how to engage the brain, how to talk from the heart, and how to take action.

How do we face our facts and fears?

First, read. Examine how others have done it. It’s that simple. John F. Kennedy was always reading a book, and was notorious for stealing magazines. Teddy Roosevelt read a book a day, even through scanning. For Blythe, it’s a way to get to know people.

Two books she recommends are Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a powerful story of survival in Auschwitz that will change your life, Drive by Daniel Pink, which explores Autonomy, Purpose and Mastery.

Blythe introduced her next points with a valuable quote from Soren Kierkegaard: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." That’s why it’s important to write down your goals, even on cocktail napkins.

Dreams, too, are important. For herself, Blythe once imagined a castle in the sky in Italy perhaps, or France. She read about how other women who had done it, who had made it, who had the dream life she imagined. When she ended up working in Paris, her husband got a job in Buffalo.

"I’ll come visit you,” she negotiated.

In other words, sometimes these dreams just don’t happen at a good time – but if you know what you want, you can go for it!

Following principles, not facts, is key. Blythe outlined her own four principles:

Be fair – A simple concept, but more valuable than we may realize.

Be firm – "We women don’t always say what we want,” says Blythe. "Know what you want. Ask for it.”

Be friendly – "You’ll attract a lot more bees with honey than vinegar,” her mother once told her.

Be frank – When her Paris job didn’t turn out to be the growth opportunity she expected, instead presented a host of problems, she couldn’t sugarcoat the circumstances. She was frank about cutting dividends in half – a necessary measure.

"Solidarity” is another key word. Other cultures can point out the best of human strengths and risk-taking. Blythe shared a video of depicting the struggle and victory of solidarity, detailing Lech Walesa’s revolutionary impact on Polish politics.

Wrapping up her rousing address, Blythe reminded us that "Courage is the whole heart of overcoming your fear.” Only by labeling our fears can we overcome them.

A quote from Winston Churchill finishes the session, speaking volumes in just a few words: "Courage is standing up and speaking. Courage is also sitting down and listening.”

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