Courage at Work: Why Removing the Fear Barrier Increases Cross-Cultural Corporate Success

I'm not the first one to write about courage in the workplace, and I certainly won't be the last. There's a reason for that; courage is fundamental to growth, change, and survival. And it's even more important in a cross-cultural setting.

What does courage in the global workplace look like? It's not that different from courage in other facets of our lives. It's doing the hard thing in the face of easier alternatives, acting upon what is right outside of cost, pride, and career. It's not always a grand gesture; in fact, it's often the personal efforts that take the most courageous reserves.

• Admitting a mistake to a superior
• Making a client aware of problems with a faulty product
• Stepping down in the face of an inappropriate handling of a workplace situation
• Giving credit to others, when it would be more advantageous to claim it for yourself
• Holding yourself accountable to the same standards you grip everyone else by

These are all notably stressful situations in corporate environments that speak the same vernacular, in the same time zone, with the same cultural aesthetic. Now, imagine yourself in the global arena, approaching a management style that is as foreign to you as the language in which it's spoken. In these cases, courage takes a much larger effort, particularly when a company values traits you've been culturally trained to avoid.

In this way, showing courage is much like being nice; different cultures demonstrate these important behaviors quite differently. For instance, where brave leaders in Japan block negative emotions to avoid experiencing anger or jealousy, brave leaders in America show emotion to increase connection, empathy, and trust.

Tackling fear is often the biggest obstacle in corporate training and one we in the business often tackle before addressing the more specific challenges of cultural misalignment, change management, and rogue mergers and acquisitions. After all, if you don't have the courage to try--or the skills and tools to make an attempt possible--it makes little sense to continue with additional training and education.

When working with multinational firms, creating a "courageous culture" is often just as important as aligning the geographic ones. And the "bravery burden", while most heavily shouldered by an organization's leaders, is something that must be carried by everyone. There are many reasons to be afraid in today's economy and corporate environment; fortunately for all of us, for every reason to keep your head down, there are just as many ways and reasons to stand up.

Courage to challenge authority
Challenging authority is particularly stressful for those workforces deeply embedded in submissive cultures. In capitalist countries such as Switzerland and the United States, it is an employee's duty to report discrepancies to protect the company, and themselves, at all times. Employees know they can rely on the law if things are shady. In emerging economies, however, where the law may not offer the same level of protection, people give priority to working relationships and influential networks of powerful people. Because the courage to challenge authority means something slightly different in each of these environments, the approaches used to bolster bravery will have to be different as well.

Courage to take risks
A safe, rewarding environment for risk-taking and innovation allows employees to feel comfortable showcasing the breadth of their experience, education, and creativity. In some cultural settings, to take a risk and fail can end a job before it starts; in just as many others, failing to take risks can halt an otherwise promising career.

If your company values innovation, creativity, and growth, creating a safe environment that praises efforts and downplays failures is key. Cultural mediation firms can turn dead-end roads into stepping stones and help multinational companies create the environments necessary for unified progress.

Courage to change
Sometimes, despite best efforts and pure conviction, things fail; conversely, sometimes, despite poor attitudes and lack of faith, things succeed. It takes courage to see when another course of action may be more useful, especially when it comes from a conflicting or misunderstood point of view. Fostering courage to change in a cross-cultural environment comes in several forms, be it in the recognition of the sense of loss or control, the permission to allow ideas to safely surface, or the continued demonstration of positive feedback. Or, more than likely, all of the above.

Courage to persevere
Developing a global corporate mindset takes time, effort and persistence. It takes courage to keep holding a brush to the big picture, especially when expectations fall short and goals hover out of reach. The courage to persevere is born from trust, faith in the outcome, and faith in yourself. Successful workplaces remove unnecessary barriers to success.

"Anything that we have to learn we learn by the actual doing of it," Aristotle once said. "We become just by performing just acts, temperate by performing temperate ones, brave by performing brave ones." Whether you are an employee of a global company or >a manager leading a multinational workforce, there is one thing you must keep in mind when trying to bolster corporate courage: to get it, you must start showing it.

So let's get started.

Want to learn more about how to encourage courage in the workplace? Keep reading.