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Soul-Talk: Are You Courageous or Just Self-Righteous?

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What's the difference between true courage and the sometimes foolish or insensitive dogged determination that runs roughshod over other people in the name of some sacrosanct goal?

True courage takes many forms, few of them characterized by bravado and none of them insensitive or unkind. That doesn't mean true courage can't appear to be insensitive or unkind; when sourced from a deep sensitivity and caring, true courage is willing to take whatever stance is necessary to produce the desired results, and yet it is never produced out of bravado or some form of self-righteousness.

True courage stems from something heartfelt, not something powered by adrenaline, testosterone or emotional angst. That doesn't mean that true courage might not involve adrenaline, testosterone or powerful emotions, just that the source is something deeper. In fact, it may require adrenaline or even emotional charge in order to get the point across.

The word courage stems from the French word for heart, "coeur," and the suffix, "age" comes from the Vulgar Latin meaning "associated with or characterized by." Courage then means characterized by the heart. Another etymological derivation of the word would suggest that courage combines the word for heart and a word from Vulgar Latin meaning "to have good taste, to be wise."

In my vernacular, courage means to have the wisdom of the heart. In order to find out what courage really means, in order to access your own heartfelt wisdom, you are going to have to turn down the volume on your Self-Talk and listen more closely to your Soul-Talk.

Throughout this series on moving from Self-Talk to Soul-Talk, which began last October, we have been addressing which voice you listen to inside your own self: your Self-Talk, which typically has some form of criticism or limiting belief associated with it, and your Soul-Talk which, comes from a deeper, more connected aspect of who you truly are. For our purposes, we can assume that the heart is the center and source of your Soul-Talk.

If some part of you is saying anything like, "this guy is nuts," or "what's all this drivel about heartfelt wisdom," your Self-Talk is doing just fine. You may not be doing so well yourself while all that Self-Talk is running amok, but your Self-Talk will happily assure you that any disturbance you might be feeling has nothing to do with you but instead with the "drivel" or the "idiot" putting forth these weird notions.

What is heart-felt courage?

Courage often connotes some form of sacrifice, and indeed, the wisdom of the heart will often require sacrifice. However, courage sourced from bravado, insensitivity or righteousness, may only think about physical sacrifice. Heartfelt courage may lead you to sacrifice aspects of yourself much more difficult to put at risk. Heartfelt courage may ask you to sacrifice your pride and admit you are wrong, including long-held beliefs or positions about what is right and proper. Heartfelt courage may also ask you to sacrifice, or at least put at risk, your job, your relationship, or your self image.

Several months ago, a senior officer at one of my clients became incensed at some choices I was making while working with an under-performing team. As one of those "take no prisoner" types who powers through situations in dogged determination to reach his goal, he was all bent out of shape about my "sense of urgency" and wanted me to scramble the jets and attack the problem. However, his war-footing mentality often wound up getting things only kinda-sorta right, which eventually blew up on him, for which he then blamed his minions for the shortcomings. It was this very everything-is-an-urgent-priority approach to his business which had gotten him in trouble in the first place, but he was ill-prepared to observe much less acknowledge the consequences of his choices.

Over the course of the assignment, I found myself falling into my own victim trap of blaming him for things going south and the culture of fear that had been bred in his teams. As I was bemoaning my fate, a good friend and mentor reminded me that I, too, might have Self-Talk running from time to time and asked me to consider what my Soul-Talk would have me do in this instance. This little question sparked a great realization that I had been focusing on a form of physical (fiscal) level of security -- "jeez, I could lose this assignment if I confront him too strongly."

I found that I had been backing down from the actual wisdom of my heart for which I had been hired in the first place. That in turn helped me remember some incredibly simple yet sage advice found in one of my favorite new books, Loyalty to Your Soul by Drs. Ron and Mary Hulnick -- how you respond to the issue, is the issue.

My Self-Talk wanted to call up a kind of courage sourced out of righteous indignation. Had I fallen into the righteousness trap, I would have gone into some kind of blame conversation with my Self-Talk, supplying any number of arguments about how right I was and how wrong he was.

Having been reminded of my deeper, soul-centered purpose, I turned toward my heart and asked what my Soul-Talk would have me do. It didn't take too long before I was able to reframe the whole situation away from what was wrong about him into what he had hired me for in the first place. The conversation went something like this: "Mike, I don't think you hired me to do things the way they have been done all along. After all, you already have great skill in moving things forward quickly and producing results. However, you are also concerned about the collateral damage that occurs along the way. You hired me because I bring a different approach to the game, one that starts more slowly, to be sure, but also holds the promise of building more sustainable results by focusing more on people than executing projects."

To massacre an old philosophical bit of wisdom, I was advocating that we teach people to fish rather than order them to fish. I went on to say: "Strategies don't work -- people work strategies. Projects and processes don't work -- people work projects and processes. If we focus on developing your people, you will wind up accelerating your path to success, with a whole lot more rhythm and flow and a whole lot less stress and collateral damage along the way. If that's what you want, I'm your guy. If not, we might as well walk away now."

It took a while before Mike got comfortable with a different rhythm and apparently slower pace, but he soon recognized the wisdom of that ancient axiom, you sometimes have to slow down in order to speed up.

It took courage to confront Mike and let him know that if all he wanted was more of the same approach, he didn't need me. Indeed, he did get a little bent out of shape and nearly terminated my contract right there and then. However, we did find our way through the hiccup. We were able to turn the poorly-performing department around in about six weeks time. Performance did drop even more in the next couple of weeks, but then the team took off like the proverbial rocket. They went on to set monthly performance records month after month and to this day are still hitting it out of the park.

Next week, we will delve ever deeper into righteousness and the danger of living in your own righteousness rut.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you. What has been our experience with heart-centered courage? What sacrifices have you made and how have you benefited? Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.

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If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my new book, "Workarounds That Work." You'll be glad you did.

You can buy "Workarounds That Work" here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.

For more by Russell Bishop, click here.

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