Part Seven of ten blogs using films to illustrate what you’d want employees to feel in a high performance organisational culture…..

Number 6 – Courage
One dictionary definition of courage is: “the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, pain etc". It comes from the old French word ‘corage’, which is derived from ‘cuer’ or heart. Possessing courage is having the ability to overcome the fear you have about something and because fear is a feeling it’s about being able to subdue the feeling such that it doesn’t prevent you from taking action.  It isn’t a word that’s used often nowadays and tends to be thought of as being more relevant to past times, when being courageous usually meant physically facing your foes.  Nevertheless, I believe it’s a quality that is vital for the success of any business in the present day.

It’s essential for two reasons.  Firstly, organisations have to be able to adapt quickly to changing market conditions, to take advantage raipdly of opportunities and react just as rapidly to emerging risks.  This is only possible if the people who work in the organisation can adapt quickly – they are the organisation.  But change of any sort can be scary, the culture of the organisation has to support it (this goes back to yesterdays post about Challenge), and employees have to be courageous enough to change, often without knowing exactly what the outcome will be.

Secondly, courageous employees are critical to prevent mistakes.  In tough economic times the cost of mistakes could be disastrous, the difference between success and failure.  It’s become much more important to prevent them.  By the way, I don’t intend to suggest that making mistakes is a bad thing.  It’s only human and I think legendary basketball coach John Wooden, was absolutely correct when he said “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”  My point is that it’s not a good thing to make mistakes when they could have been prevented.  And the best people to do that are the people who work in the organisation. In the aftermath of a big mistake, when the analysis of what went wrong is taking place, it’s common to hear that someone disagreed with the decision, they ‘knew’ it wasn’t right – but said nothing. They chose to stay silent because of fear – they were worried they’d look silly, they didn’t want to be the only one disagreeing, or they didn’t want to ‘rock the boat’ because it might damage their career. And at the moment they chose to say nothing, the chance to prevent the problem was lost.  It takes courage to speak up.  Every organisation should be doing all they can to ‘encourage courage’.

The film I’ve chosen to illustrate courage is ‘A Knight’s Tale’.  Inspired by ‘The Canterbury Tales’, the film takes the familiar elements of knighthood tales of adventure and gives them some modern day twists.  It’s amusing to see that the crowd at the first jousting tournament is clapping and singing along to Queen’s hit ‘We Will Rock You’.  And you can’t help but compare the event to modern day football matches.  Indeed humour is a theme throughout the film.  The central character is William (played by the late Heath Ledger), a poverty stricken son of a thatcher, who dreams of one day becoming a knight.  Class barriers make the all but impossible, bu tthanks to a little help from his friends, William gets a chance to "change his stars," as he puts it.  His fellow squires help him to train and transform into the role of a nobleman and he assumes the name Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland.  But every dreamer must of course overcome struggles before their dreams are realised.  William faces three: his main adversary at tournaments – Count Adhemar, the difficulties he has with the woman he loves – Jocelyn, and having his real identity discovered, with potentially huge consequences.  

The scene when those around him encourage him to flee to avoid punishment after his true identity has emerged is the one in which his courage shines and he explains to them that as a knight he cannot.  The moment when his pretence is uncovered and he is farthest away from his dream is also the moment when through his behaviour he truly assumes the identity of the person he yearns to become.  Its message is that we can all be who we want to be, by facing our fears, daring to take risks in pursuit of our goal and accepting help from others.  And if we do, we can ‘change our stars’.

If you’re looking for something which is a serious reflection of life at the time this film is not for you – but if you want a laugh whilst watching an adventure, it’s great. See the film trailer here:

I’ll post part eight tomorrow.

Twitter: @accordengage
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