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  • Writer's pictureMichael Padilla-Pagan Pay

Moral Courage in Business: The Power to Lead and Change


Courage in the business world is the force that drives leadership and transformation. It's often said that what you don't do can hurt you, and missed opportunities can lead to profound regrets. Consider the case of Blockbuster, which could have pioneered the video streaming industry, or the SEC, which could have acted on early whistleblower tips about bonds and mortgage scams. Yet, they hesitated.


Doing nothing may seem easy, but it's often an invisible mistake—an omission rather than a commission. To act requires courage, and to innovate demands even greater courage. Today, courage seems to be in short supply. What are leaders waiting for? Without bold action and innovation, how can troubled economies escape decline?


Courage is the catalyst for change. It takes intellectual courage to challenge conventional wisdom and envision new possibilities. Leaders must refuse to accept limits or confine themselves within industry boundaries.


Moral courage empowers individuals to stand up for principles rather than remain on the sidelines.


A lack of courage stifles positive change at all levels. Think of ineffective politicians who shift positions based on polling data rather than conviction. Think of all the times when people sense something is wrong but fail to speak up. Consider personal omissions, such as not offering thanks, praise, or feedback, that could strengthen relationships.


In troubled companies, a familiar pattern emerges. Managers equivocate in response to new initiatives, watch struggles without offering assistance, and withhold resources. If the project succeeds, they claim to have supported it all along; if it fails, they say, "I told you so." Individual decisions to hedge bets, hoard information or adopt a passive stance further contribute to the decline of systems. In my book, "Confidence," I refer to such behavior as the "timidity of mediocrity."


Courage doesn't mean the absence of fear. Heroes are often terrified but act regardless. Innovators understand that they are taking risks. However, courage doesn't equate to foolhardiness. Safety nets support daring actions. Rapid prototyping, essentially testing and refining, is a tech-savvy way of embracing courage.


Courage finds strength in practice, passion, and collaboration. It arises from a deep commitment to achieving shared goals. When others rely on you and support your efforts, and when you act in the service of others rather than for personal glory, courageous deeds become more accessible. Courage possesses a collective component, even when manifested through individual actions.


It's tempting to stick with the status quo. Once a course is set, it becomes the path of least resistance. However, we must explore alternative paths, lest we regret not taking them.


This is why I issue a call for moral courage: no problems left to fester, no opportunities left unexamined, and no ideas left behind.

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