Kicking off a courage conversation

Through the results of a recent survey, I learned that Greenpeace staff don’t feel engaged. They don’t feel informed, listened to, or empowered. Greenpeace is working to become a more open organization and to address this problem. The organization is writing a framework to guide it for the next ten years. In it, Greenpeacers wrote:

“The implications of the Long Term Global Framework— for consideration during implementation — focus us to be able to think differently, and to behave and operate differently. It will require strong, collective leadership from all of us around the globe and will need us to maintain a culture, of openness, flexibility and learn as we go in order for this to be successful.”

A leader needs to strengthen courage muscles to improve engagement. We need courage to participate in a culture of openness, flexibility and learning.

I wanted to begin a conversation around courage inside the work place. I published some of the amazing work colleagues have done to the open web, so I could point people to it.

I brought all this up in a community call last week. I asked how people thought about “courage” in relationship to their work. Flo said he didn’t feel that the Greenpeace community had a problem with courage. Think about the actions that Greenpeace activists take – from climbing oil rigs to facing arrest on a regular basis. Flo’s statement holds a lot of water, but his point was more complicated. He talked about how sometimes people choose not to stand up, but it’s not because of a lack of courage. Sometimes, he said, other reasons might be at play.

Yet, some say that many at Greenpeace manage through fear. To Johanna, being courageous means being vulnerable and putting yourself out there. She said that doing so inside of Greenpeace can carry risks. The conversation veered off when someone made a comparison to the corporate world.

We talked about how life inside of an NGO may be different from life inside a for-profit business. We’re generalizing when we say that in the corporate world, as long as the business makes money, jobs are secure and everything is fine. This implies that paychecks are the motivator for people working in for-profit environments. In the non-profit world, we tend to think of ourselves as passionate and driven. We’re always right because we’re all intelligent. We can spin an argument to fit our current contexts.

I prefer non-profits to the corporations, but I don’t generally* criticize those who work for-profit. I know plenty of people in the corporate world who believe in the organization they work for. A lot of the NGO world has a “corporations are evil” mindset. But that there are plenty of corporations who are trying to make the world a better place. Don’t forget, we need to look outside the silos we build around ourselves from time to time.

The discussion around corporate versus non-profit motivations was interesting. But I tried to steer us back to courage inside the workplace. We wondered aloud if people lacked courage to speak up. Or do they make a strategic choice not to speak up because they know it won’t get them anywhere? To me, this sounds like disengagement. If you don’t stand up for what you believe in, are you engaged in what’s going on?

Cody, who works in the Greenpeace Canada office, talked about an internal debate. He said that it’s taken a lot of courage for both sides of this argument to talk to each other and try to talk through it. In the end, we all agreed that our image of external courage and our practices of internal courage were not on par with one another.

We agreed to honor courage amongst our colleagues, and we’ll continue talking about this attribute in future calls.

You can join us biweekly for these meta conversations. We talk about culture change, old myths, new stories, and how storytelling and campaigning can work together to change the world.

  2 comments for “Kicking off a courage conversation

  1. May 30, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks Laura, nice one. To Flo’s point about courage, I think he’s right — but there’s different kinds of courage. I think Greenpeace is AMAZINGLY courageous in areas where it has expertise and experience: and those things, as keys to courage, make things like scaling an oil rig in Force 3 easier. But there’s also the courage to step out of your experience and expertise and truly try the new — that can be very different, and in some ways more daunting – you’re untethered from training, you don’t have the experience of past effort. Tommy and I are working with a group at the moment that does incredibly brave actions — but shifting their culture is where they’re actually showing real courage. Good to see Greenpeace doing the same!

  2. May 31, 2016 at 4:05 am

    I wish I could make these calls! :)
    I think the many ‘flavours of courage’ is a key nuance to understand. I’ve worked with people where attending a community meeting is an extraordinarily courageous act, and similarly raising your voice in dissent under a strict political system comes with extreme dangers. Equating courage purely to putting your body on the line in an NVDA is essentially reductive. There are so many other contexts where even with all the courage in the world, you can’t make a change or ‘stand up’.
    Obviously it’s worth thinking about teh courage displayed by people like Malala Yousafzai, but also where courage is not what’s needed. People in refugee detention camps are setting themselves on fire, an act of the utmost courage, but it doesn’t even get media coverage in the country (Australia) imprisoning them. There is also the courage to act in solidarity which I think is also vital to challenge and disrupt existing unequal power structures. This excellent campaign from India encouraged men to stand up to other men if they heard or suspected domestic violence was happening in a nearby home:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmNz0cTcxFU
    Also the whole model of Peace Brigades International for instance, leverages the courage to stand with someone.
    Sounds like a great chat as per – keep it up team!

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