“Creating a Culture of Courage” in a Risky Post-Recession Landscape: An Interview with Cindy Solomon

Nationally recognized speaker and consultant Cindy Solomon knows a thing or two about courage. In fact, Solomon regularly works with companies to create a culture of courage that drives innovation in this post-recession business economy. That’s why she was surprised to find herself full of fear on the Demon Drop at King’s Island amusement park in Ohio.

Solomon remembers thinking: “How dare I get up and talk to leaders about risk and courage, yet sit here paralyzed by fear. So, after much internal debate, I pulled the cord and dropped 153 feet at 63 miles per hour…and it changed me…the way I worked. I doubled the revenues of my business in three months.”

Solomon is the keynote speaker for the 2011 Key4Women Forum. Her presentation, “Creating a Culture of Courage,” will highlight the lessons she has learned throughout her career and over the course of more than 5,000 interviews with entrepreneurs and business leaders. Here Solomon shares some of her thoughts about courage, business and how success depends almost entirely on our ability to assess the situation and make difficult decisions confidently and quickly.

Ruth Mahoney:  Your presentation is about courage. What are your thoughts on the role courage plays in today’s new business economy?

Cindy Solomon: The current post-recession business landscape is often characterized by fear and consensus-building, so finding the courage to move forward in spite of risk, fear and the possibility of failure is essential for the success of businesses. Companies are required to do more with less and our markets are changing on a dime, making it more important than ever for leaders to inspire and thrive on the challenge of new and unknown circumstances. Leaders who can guide their organizations with courage and confidence will surpass those who don’t in our new business landscape.

RM:  Key4Women was founded to help women achieve success, knowing that they have hurdles and business behaviors different than their male counterparts. Why do you think courage is essential to the success of women, in particular?

CS:  When speaking to a room full of men or women about courage, I always start by asking members of the audience to raise their hand if they think they are courageous. Ninety percent of men raise their hands and about fifty percent of women raise their hands. Then, I ask the audience to close their eyes and I repeat the question. Eyes closed, the number of raised hands among men drops to about fifty percent and the number of raised hands among women rises to ninety percent. Women are taught to conceal their courage, putting us at a significant disadvantage out of the gate.

RM:  Over the past five years, you have interviewed more than 5,000 men and women in business. What patterns have you observed when it comes to the way people demonstrate courageous behavior?

CS:  Through extensive research, we have identified four types of courage: blind, crisis, role and core. While one type is no more or less useful than another, understanding which type of courage to employ in different situations can be especially beneficial to the outcome.

RM:  What are your thoughts on developing courage? Do you have to hit the DNA jackpot or can it be learned?

CS: I tell people to work on courage like any other decision- making skill. If you can begin to identify which type of courage you are acting from in different situations and analyze the type, or combination, of courage needed in various scenarios, you can begin to make courageous decisions with confidence.

RM:  What routines have you observed among companies that have inhibited courageous employee behavior?

CS:  One mistake many organizations make when under financial or competitive pressure is to cut training budgets first. Extensive training begets role courage, which gives individuals the confidence that they are making the best possible decisions in any given situation.

RM:  What characterizes organizations that excel at inspiring courage?

CS:  Organizations able to inspire and lead with courage are those that successfully create a passionate purpose within their companies that employees, customers and other stakeholders can rally behind. These organizations engage their team in conversations about what it takes to be successful. They understand that failure is a step to success.

[blockquote class=blue]Ruth Mahoney is president of Key’s Hudson Valley/Metro NY District. She may be reached at 845-512-4001 or Ruth_Mahoney@KeyBank.com.[/blockquote]


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About the Author: Ruth Mahoney