Matter of Courage
“Speak Up even when your voice shakes” Anonymous
But how can you speak if your legs are shaking? So, I try to avoid any situation that demands speaking. It started right from my school days.
“Can anyone answer this question?” Teacher asked.
I ducked my head to avoid making eye contact.
“You” the teacher shouted.
I turned my head with hesitation and saw Raj standing up. I heaved a sigh of relief.
Speaking up was always a challenge. I ensured to avoid a situation that exposed me to speaking in front of others.
When I started my career, whenever my boss asked for the opinion of the team, I tried to escape by remaining silent. When the situation persisted, I struggled to get the right words to sound diplomatic.
All of this changed when I was made to report to Venkat. He was 3 levels senior to me.
Venkat amazed me with his audacity to speak his mind. Not just to his immediate superior, but even to the CEO. He will be forthright in sharing his opinion.
Some people have the uncanny ability to inspire and instill remarkable change in us. Venkat was one such person.
Once a colleague even remarked “Venkat, tone it down. You are talking to the CEO”.
Venkat replied, “I am putting forward my views. I am not committing any crime”.
These words got etched in my mind and inspired me. Slowly, it altered my personality. I started sharing my views boldly.
Every time I put across my views, it only helped me to grow in conviction.
The transformation from a timid semi-urban personality to someone who speaks out boldly was complete when my boss asked me to carry out a transaction which I blatantly refused.
“Why can’t we do this?” My boss asked me.
“Because this is plain wrong and Unethical”
“If you say so. Let me know how we can handle the situation” my boss remarked.
I worked out a solution that kept us within the legal and ethical boundaries. It got accepted.
Everytime I could speak up, I felt empowered.
This power led me to growth in the corporate world. You get appreciated when you speak out, knowing well the consequences can even derail the career at times.
I shared my story with my mentor, who asked me one question.
“Who is courageous? Venkat or the CEO. You or your boss”
“Of course, it is Venkat and me. It is difficult to speak up”
“Let us revisit this topic after a few years”. My mentor left the discussion hanging on there.
Years passed. I got promoted to Head of the department. I have always kept my cabin open and allowed my team to discuss anything openly. I considered myself to be a good leader until the following conversation happened.
One day one of my team members called. “Can I say something?”
“Of course, I will never stop you”
“But I need you to Promise two things. One, you will listen to me fully and two, you won’t get upset”
“What?” (I screamed inside my head)
“Go ahead”, I said.
I listened with patience and got angry eventually.
Some conversations stay in your mind until you find an answer.
One week of introspection led me to connect with my mentor.
He circled me back to the question “Who truly showed the courage ? Venkat or the CEO. You or your boss”.
The answer hit me like a thunderbolt.
Speaking up is an act of Courage.
But listening without the intent of reacting needs more courage.
CEO and my boss showed enormous courage.
Winston Churchill put it more aptly when he said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”
I could emulate Venkat and speak boldly not just out of my courage but also because of the willingness of the leaders to listen.
Courage to listen leads to respect for people and their ideas. An environment filled with such leaders encourages people and empowers them to innovate. It enables talent to thrive.
Creativity cuts through the chaos in such an environment.
Listening also helps to build trust.
Organizations prosper in such environments.
We need courageous leaders willing to listen in organizations, families, communities, and especially in Politics.
Everytime I find courage to speak up, I appreciate the courage of those willing to listen.
I conclude with two questions — Do you have the courage to speak? More importantly, Do you have the courage to listen?