July 20, 2003

Offering a unique perspective on what it takes to ‘make it’.Ask ten people whether the typical Israeli has courage and the immediate reply would be, “Yes.” Ask the same ten people to describe “the Israeli personality,” and you’re likely to hear words like, “tough, resourceful, blunt, skeptical, abrupt, proud, self-assured, loud, clever, arrogant.” At least, that’s what the research on cultural differences shows.

Ask ten people to describe the personality of the typical engineer/entrepreneur or scientific thought-leader, in Israel or elsewhere in the world, and you’d be likely to hear many of the same words. Do these over-achieving thought-leaders have courage? Most people would say, “Of course.”

Courage like this may create great ideas and great technology, but it isn’t enough to create a great company. That’s the lesson that technical and scientific thought-leaders get when they work with our faculty and our advisors at The Courage Institute. Being the sharpest and most aggressive problem-solver may take you to the top, but it won’t keep you at the top – and it won’t enlarge the base of support that you need to scale up your enterprise or to play in the big leagues with big-league customers, big-league investors and big-league joint venture partners.

As immigrants to Israel, we couldn’t have found a better laboratory for sharpening our insights about courage than what we’ve found in Israeli society. On the street, true courage is the uniquely Israeli behavior that we see when a stranger needs help getting up the stairs, when someone makes an obvious mistake or when there’s something suspicious on the sidewalk. Sure, at times it has a bit of a sharp edge. People assume that you have a tough skin and that you can roll with the punches. But if there’s a genuine need and an opportunity to contribute to the greater good, people are ‘out there’ to tell you what should be done or just pitch in and do it.

In Hebrew, true courage literally means “strength of heart.” It’s different from chutzpah. It draws other people in and lifts them to a higher level than the one they might have chosen for themselves. It acknowledges, or allays, their concerns. It respects their dignity and challenges them to “get on with it.”

In our new book, The Courage to Act, we describe the practices that build real courage, not chutzpah, in business and technical teams. We show how teams with purpose, will, rigor, risk and candor outperform those who lack one or more of these inner strengths. Like our Courage Institute programs, this book is written for leaders at all levels in world-class organizations outside Israel and focuses on the realities that test courage in project teams and in managing organizational change. It doesn’t explicitly focus on the Israeli experience, but it does reflect an Israeli perspective on what it takes to “make it” when the going gets tough.

In business, true courage is reflected in what we call “The Five Courage Factors:”

** Purpose: The courage to pursue lofty and audacious goals.

** Will: The courage to inspire hope, spirit and enthusiasm.

** Rigor: The courage to invent best practices and make them “stick”.

** Risk: The courage to empower others and invest in trustworthy relationships.

** Candor: The courage to speak and hear the truth.

We developed the five courage factors by watching what happens when a team or organization encounters adversity, and comparing the actions of teams who rise to the challenge with those who take the easy way out. Our research on courage began many years before we arrived in Israel as new immigrants. We saw teams with The Five Courage Factors outperform teams who “took what fate had in store for them” when they were selling in a tough economy or a competitive marketplace. Teams with The Five Courage Factors found technical solutions that eluded their low-courage colleagues.

Our Israeli colleagues get a funny look on their face when they hear an American immigrant talk about courage – especially when “real courage” is described in broken Hebrew with a thick American accent. “What do you know about tough times?” we’ve been asked. “Or about dealing with real adversity? When were you tested under fire?”

Of course, you don’t have to be in an army uniform to have your courage tested. All you have to face is fear, whether it’s real or imagined. All you have to encounter is adversity, when the bar is set higher than you can comfortably reach. At these moments of truth, and dozens of others, it may feel like we’re backed into a corner. But those with courage know they have a choice. They choose to act with purpose, will, rigor, risk and candor – rather than taking the easy way out. They achieve extraordinary results and, even more, build a foundation to sustain a track record of accomplishment.

The fears, adversities and temptations in Israel are, indeed, different from those that we encountered when we lived in North America – or the fears that our clients still encounter as they face conflict, uncertainty, ethical dilemmas, or when they have to balance corporate politics with business success.

But courage isn’t about what we?re afraid of. It’s about how we deal and master fear. Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion said courage is a unique form of knowledge. It’s knowing how to fear what we ought to fear and how not to fear what we ought not fear. And that knowledge – to live on the edge, thrive and stay true to your vision and your principles, in spite of the fact that you’re painfully aware that you’re living on the edge – IS uniquely and distinctively Israeli. Fortunately, as we’ve shown at The Courage Institute, this also a knowledge that can be taught and learned – and can have a dramatic impact on the success that a project team or an entire organization achieves.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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