Courage has been described as recognizing a worthy goal and taking action to achieve it, despite the presence of fear. While acting courageously does impose risks for the individual or organization and failure is a real possibility, acting courageously also offers the promise of rewards such as attaining a prized goal and enhancing personal or organizational capacity. This study involved a qualitative examination of courage. Specifically, the study examined (a) the factors that influence people and organizations to take courageous action, (b) the characteristics of courageous action, and (c) the outcomes of courageous action. This study involved a qualitative examination of courage using semi-structured interviews with 11 men and women who had corporate experience. Participants were selected using a combination of criterion, convenience, and snowball sampling strategies. Nine interviews were conducted by telephone and two were conducted in person. Each interview lasted 25 to 60 minutes in duration. Interview data were audio-recorded, transcribed, and examined using content analysis. Participants believed that both contextual factors (e.g., one's organization, one's society, important others) influenced one's choice to act courageously. The research found a key personal factor promoting courageous action is the ability to feel fear and yet respond productively. Additionally, the person's own characteristics influence the choice to act. Such characteristics include one's fear tolerance, integrity, perceptions of risk, willingness to sacrifice personal gain, perceived consequences of not acting, proclivity for risk, and maturity. Participants explained that fear naturally arises when contemplating a courageous act. Fears typically surrounded negative financial, political, and relational effects. Participants also reported that they fear tarnishing their reputations, experiencing others' anger and retaliation, failing, and being different by taking a courageous action. Courage was reported to manifest as integrity in speech, action, and outcomes. The outcomes of courageous actions centered on certain inner experiences and enhanced personal capacity, others' responses, and practical outcomes. These collected findings suggest that courageous acts might be encouraged or achieved only through a three-pronged approach of societal influence, the organization's cultural influence, and the natural tendencies of the individual. Thus, if courage is a desired behavior, it would be helpful to design organization development interventions that diagnose the societal factors, organizational factors, and personal factors promoting courageous action, as they were identified in this study's findings. Then, it would be helpful to educate organization leaders and members about what factors encourage and discourage courageous acts, and assure that the organizational systems are aligned to encourage courageous acts. Limitations of this study included use of a small, rather homogeneous sample and researcher bias. Suggestions for additional research are to examine the role of personality in courage, explore the role of wisdom in courage, investigate the types of courageous cultures that exist, identify what culture types tend to align with courage and what culture types tend to be at odds with courage, and conduct cross-cultural examinations of courage.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Research projects (MSOD); Courage; Organizational behavior
Date of Award
Graziadio Business School
Lord, Jetter Alizabeth, "A qualitative exploration of courage" (2010). Theses and Dissertations. 81.