Bravery in Management

Several years ago a leading figure in football was talking to an interviewer about bravery.

The discussion was about the importance of having a tough, hard tackling player, who wasn’t afraid to throw himself into a robust challenge to win the ball or dominate the opponent and in doing so, risked personal injury himself.

The interviewee himself had been just that type of player and it was put to him that to play in that way epitomised bravery in football.

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A definition of bravery

However, he had a very different definition of bravery, which was that bravery was looking to receive the ball from a team mate, who needed someone to pass to, even when being tightly marked yourself. He saw the bravery in this instance as taking possession of the ball on behalf of the team (with the personal risk that you might fail to keep possession of it or get clattered at close quarters by the person tightly marking you).

We were reminded of this short story recently when talking to a leader of a team in a large national business about what bravery was in his role.

The leader was a second line manager, leading a team of managers, whose teams dealt with the end customer. The leader often found himself in a position where his business was telling him one thing and he knew that the best thing to do for his team and his customers, was to do something else.

What do you do, when what feels right for the team and your customers isn’t aligned to what more seniors are seeing from their more distant perspective?

We discussed that bravery in management was typically considered to be having a difficult conversation with an under-performer or trying to explain some poor results to your boss. However, based on the argument that you can’t be brave without first being scared, we agreed that one of the bravest things for a manager or leader to do, is to do nothing.

Often leaders and managers are feeling pressure from the need to achieve targets or results. Their own boss is talking to them about the need to hit targets and numbers and wants to know what the manager is going to do to make sure that his or her team hits the numbers.

It seems that the senior leader is only interested in the number, talking about the number, reviewing the number and forecasting the number, when the team are wanting to focus on what they need to do.

What’s the typical immediate reaction of the manager?

There is huge pressure on the manager to turn to their team and talk to them about the need to hit targets and numbers and to want to know what the other managers are going to do to make sure that his or her team hits the numbers.

What’s the best thing they can do?

Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.

What’s the bravest thing the manager can do?

They could say to their boss: “We’ve spent a lot of time recruiting and training the right people to be in this team. We’ve invested time making sure they know our targets and objectives and why they’re important. I’ve spoken to them all individually and collectively about what they’re doing to make sure that they’re clear and confident. They’re all committed, working hard and supporting one another. The last thing I need to do is to interrupt them by going and talking to them about the importance of hitting the number in the way that you keep doing to me. Sure I’ll keep checking in with them, to see how they’re doing, what they’re working on and to see if there’s anything I or anyone else can do to help and support their performance, but otherwise I’m going to keep out of their way as much as possible and let them get on with performing.

Now that would be a brave thing to do!