Managerial courage

courage managerial

What is managerial courage?
How can we assess managerial courage?
How can it be developed?

What is Managerial Courage?

Does it mean supporting a decision you don’t believe in? Taking responsibility, whatever the cost, for choices that are not your own, even if it means denying yourself? Is it about demonstrating unfailing ‘virility’? Why talk about a 21st century paradox when you talk about managerial courage?

Managerial courage – the 21st century paradox

In the age of holacracy and the liberated company, which advocate collective intelligence and happiness in the workplace as the religion of management, the company may be reaching a peak in the demand for managerial courage to fulfil its role.

Managerial courage is one of the managerial skills assessed in the Assess Manager management test.

Definition of managerial courage

It’s about communicating the company’s direction and decisions in a positive and explicit way to unite teams in action, willingly accepting that there may be initial reluctance, while remaining confident about future developments through appropriate support.

When managers do not understand decisions and do not feel in step with their management, managerial courage is also an ability to ask for help from their superiors to better understand the validity of the directions taken, and to provide themselves with solid arguments to support them.

Managerial courage would therefore be a predisposition (sometimes developed over time) to overcome one’s fears, based on values of justice, to support decisions that serve the long-term interests of stakeholders: shareholders and employees.
While the manager can demonstrate managerial courage in the face of a top-down decision, it is also important to include the reciprocal, i.e. the manager’s ability to defend a project that emanates from the team.

courage managerial

Managerial courage for the leader and the CODIR

In a business context where change is becoming a constant, often driven by the need to innovate, differentiate and adapt, leaders are increasingly having to make decisions, even on unpopular issues.

Dare to move forward. Daring to take decisions. Daring to persevere on a daily basis, even in the face of criticism. Daring also to recognise failure and to react while there is still time by calling on the collective intelligence.

In short, a leader’s managerial courage is illustrated by his or her ability to take decisions by uniting the stakeholders. Decisions can be unpopular, but managerial courage means taking them on consciously, with perseverance. Perseverance will be rewarded by the results, which are often expected in the short term, or by the unifying action, which enables decisions to be taken with other managers in the company if results are expected in the longer term.

Managerial courage for middle managers

So what about those managers who are asked by the CEO to carry out his or her decision, or the group’s decision?

Managerial courage is fostered when you yourself are a stakeholder in the decision to be taken. But some decisions need to be taken quickly. The participative exercise, which takes longer in the decision-making phase, is often more effective in bringing people together, but is not always suited to the deadlines for a decision, or to conflicts of interest. As long as we do not confuse urgency with haste, and managerial courage with ill-considered sacrifices, an emergency decision will be able to mobilise members and internal promoters, as long as it is explained.

How can a lack of managerial courage be detected?

Using tools to measure managerial courage

The Assess Manager test measures managers’ managerial courage. This is the first way of detecting it, because this skill is not always perceptible, even though it can have very harmful effects.

A manager’s lack of managerial courage can generally be detected by the fact that the manager sides with the team when he finds that the decision taken is unpopular. Here’s an illustration of the lack of managerial courage expressed in the words of a manager who doesn’t agree with a decision taken by his hierarchy:

“Well, they’ve decided upstairs to reorganise the company, so we’re not going to cut it”.
“From now on, we’re going to change the way we manage customer relations. Don’t ask me why, we’re just going to follow orders.
“I know it’s going to take up a lot of our time and we’ll be less focused on our core business, but we have to do it, that’s the way it is. It’s still a constraint, but we have no choice”.

Observing the lack of managerial courage

The lack of managerial courage will be revealed by :

  • A transformed message conveying a negative image of hierarchical decisions, whether the intention is conscious or unconscious.
  • The form and/or content of the message shows hesitation or even a denial of conviction,
  • By adopting the sometimes unconscious position of victim,
  • And by rallying behind the team, aiming for their own popularity,
  • As a result, employees become disengaged from their work or their sense of belonging to a corporate project.

Understanding the unpopularity of a decision


An unpopular decision affects perceptions and the factual understanding of the decision. Perception, because we don’t all read the world in the same way, especially when it comes to the business world.

For example:

“I’m a factory worker. I’ve been told that working hours are to be annualised, to give the company more flexibility if it is to survive. I see the boss parking his beautiful car every day in the VIP car park.

Differences in perception and managerial courage

I look at the reality presented to me through my glasses. And I find it hard to wear my boss’s, even though I can see that he’s lost weight over the last few months.
All I can see, in my reality, is that my holidays with my children are going to be disrupted. In my world, with my glasses on, I’m losing advantages. And I don’t see the urgency of annualising working hours. Why sign this new agreement that goes against my personal interests and those of my family? If I sign, I’ll be seen as a coward or a father/husband who’s been taken for a ride. How do I know that this is the right and only solution?

My manager has explained a few things to me. But do I want to understand? Do I want to give in? Do I want to give up my holidays?

And the manager, who knows me well since he’s worked with me for 10 years, to what extent does he not anticipate my reactions? Doesn’t he anticipate my reactions and those of my colleagues? What’s more, I have every intention of showing him that I don’t agree

To sum up – An unpopular decision is a decision :

  • Misunderstood
  • And / or involves a conflict of interest
  • And / or perceived as unfair
  • And / or badly stated (soft / authoritarian announcement)

How do you develop managerial courage?

Managerial courage starts with management

Managerial courage is fostered by the leader if he or she embodies it

  • An exemplary leader in terms of managerial courage
  • Decisions that may sometimes be restrictive, but are not perceived as coercive
  • Clear explanations and a participative search for solutions

Communication is the hallmark of managerial courage, and requires preparation at various levels:

Preparation in terms of content and form:

  • Empathic analysis: An analysis of conflicts of interest to develop empathy and know how to formulate decisions and issues at different levels in the company
  • Adapted formulation: Explanations that everyone can understand, with different time scales (short term/medium term).

Managerial courage and psychology – keys to development

Managerial courage can be developed by building on values and strengthening self-confidence.

  1. Courage (derived from heart) is a virtue that enables us to undertake difficult tasks by overcoming fear and facing up to danger (“is the decision the right one?”), suffering (“if I take this decision, will my team still like me?”) and fatigue (“I’m going to have to argue and support my team to get them on board”).
    Since ancient times and in most civilisations, courage has been considered one of the main virtues, indispensable to the hero. Its opposite is cowardice.

    Fear is therefore the first obstacle to be overcome if courage is to be achieved.
  2. Courage is to be distinguished from other notions with more pejorative connotations, such as audacity or recklessness, where the driving force behind the action is not fear, but desire or pride.
    From a moral point of view, courage must be guided by a sense of justice; it is only worthwhile when it is put at the service of others, without selfish interest.

    Courage draws its energy from the values of justice and altruism.
  3. The company is not a philanthropic association. This point about altruism is one of the difficult aspects of managerial courage in business. Because the boss who comes with his beautiful car, even if he has lost a few kilos, does not always inspire these values in the worker we saw earlier. Even less so when the boss is invisible or nebulous and referred to as an “investor” or “private fund”. His name feeds negative perceptions or deep-rooted preconceptions for some people.
    In psychology, courage is considered to be a personality trait.
    A character trait can be shaped and developed. However, each individual will have a more or less innate propensity to show courage.

Confidence at the heart of managerial courage

Preparation in the posture and individual psychology of the courageous!

Working on oneself and breaking out of victimisation patterns : Managers who have grown if necessary in their positioning and are aware of the relational games they can play to serve the message rather than their image or need for recognition

  • Exchange and need for help: Managers who are prepared and able to ask for explanations when they feel unable to take a decision
  • Ethics: managers who are prepared to step out of the company’s game when they feel they are not sufficiently committed to the company’s project
  • Positive energy: Enthusiasm is less likely to carry the day than pessimism. You therefore need a good dose of personal balance to sustain your level of energy and maintain it by looking for the first internal promoters.

In conclusion, the manager and his or her right-hand men and women have an important part to play. A company with a large number of managers with a low level of managerial courage can train its managers. But that will not be enough… The management team can also strengthen its managerial courage to take decisions and provide support. The risk is that if only the managers develop their managerial courage, they will leave the company if they do not recognise the same level of skills in the management team.

Key points about managerial courage

Managerial courage is one of the most difficult skills for a manager to develop when company decisions are not understood.

But it is also one of the most difficult skills to assume when the manager has little management experience and has not been coached.

Thousands of managers have taken the Assess Manager management test, and the collective statistical results show that this skill is more highly developed in the private sector than in the public sector, and that it develops with age and experience.

To go further with Assess Manager