Stand Apart & Stand for All: Courage at Work

February 11, 2015

By: Madison Romney

During the fall semester of this year, I was President of a student organization on campus. Many members, including those on the executive board, had been excited to plan an event that I knew would not be appropriate or allowed. While I agreed that this event would be fun, I also knew that the cost of participating would be much greater as it would threaten the reputation of the group. What I needed in this situation was courage.

It can be challenging and often awkward for us to think of and articulate instances where we have been courageous—usually we think of Martin Luther King, Malala Yousafzai, or the passengers on flight #93; how could we possibly compare?  In fact, we can compare; we have an opportunity to be courageous every day. Monica Worline, founding member of CompassionLab at the University of Michigan, dedicated her research to everyday courage, particularly in organizations. When she visited the +LAB a few weeks ago, she shared the importance of knowing our own leadership styles so when a challenge does arise, we know how to effectively “stand apart and stand for all.”

I realized that what she was explaining to us was very connected to the situation I had faced in the fall. Monica explained that to be courageous, one has to base their actions on their purpose. Finding a purpose can be a challenging feat. Some key questions I found helpful to ask were: What do I believe in? What do I stand for? I discovered that my purpose was to defend the values of the organization. The answers to these questions became the foundation and strength I used to defend our values.

Another takeaway from Monica’s talk was that courage doesn’t happen alone. It is important to find resources to help you face your challenge. In my case, it was my closest friends and peers that shared my values and purpose. Being brave is hard work and we need people to support and guide us. When I felt apprehensive about my values, goals, or even my higher moral guide, I leaned on them to re-focus and motivate me.

Monica’s main message was the importance of standing apart in order to stand for the whole. In my experience I also knew I had to stand apart.  I had to listen carefully to opinions of the group. I had to take their concerns into consideration. I had to strongly yet respectfully make my argument.  I changed the focus from “I” to “We” in order to mobilize the collective identity and values of the group. It wasn’t that “I” had to protect the reputation of the organization, but that “We” needed to embody the ideals of our founders.

Even though this fall I had an official leadership role, I know that courage can come from leaders at all levels of an organization. We can reimagine what’s possible when we work with what scares us and inspires us regardless of our position within a group. Call upon your passion & purpose, and we all can be courageous.