Managing Yourself Cultivating Everyday Courage The right way to speak truth to power


As an employee, proposing a change to the company boss can be terrifying.

Knowing when the right opportunity to confront a problem in the workplace appears is just as scary. Those who challenge the status quo of the workplace risk their reputation and their jobs.

Professor James R Detert from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business believes that he had found the right way to appeal to authority.

During his decade long research studying workplace complacency, he observed a number of people displaying what he coined as Courageous Competence behaviors. There are four key components that one must have to be courageously competent: at least six months to a year of work at the company, investment in the organization, even-handedness, and the ability to stand together or apart from those whose support they require. These qualities help to build up a ‘social goodwill’ of sorts that they can spend on changes in the workplace.

It is important to not rush into being courageous too soon when working at a firm, as it is bad form to be the new person who wants to radically redesign an existing company. Taking the time to make yourself indispensable to the company while also accumulating factual evidence supporting your argument is important.

Before a person is ready to be courageously competent, they must ask themselves two questions: “Is this really important?” and “Is this the right time?” as it is not necessary or encouraged to engage every problem when they first arise as one may come off as a broken record and become quite grating to listen to. When they are ready to take action, it is important to frame an argument in a way that is  appealing and understandable to the audience, as well as using empirical data to back up their argument in addition to managing their emotions as to not embarrass themselves.

Overall, it is vital to maintain your personal values as well as your purpose in the company. It is also good to know that courageous competence can be learned through effort and practice, it is not a skill that is inherently known!

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