Wanted: Courageous Clients

Those who know me well know that I am not audacious, so why the provocative title? Perhaps that will be better answered at the conclusion of this article. But one thing for sure is important to address at the outset: What is it that I mean in my use of the word "courageous", and why do I single out that characteristic as a most-wanted quality in a client, a client for you or a client for me?

About Courage

Battlefield bravery, standing on moral principle, facing threat to one's career or the well-being of oneself or one's family, or exploring one's own feelings of fear and insecurity. Courage refers to a willingness to approach rather than flee our fears in quite a variety of situations that we find daunting. Here, I shall limit my focus to the courage required to face challenges in personal development.

That should be of interest to all whose goals include advancing to roles of greater responsibility. I know, that could sound like resume talk, but it's not. What I'm referring to is the actual, felt experience of fear when answering a call that requires you to stretch, enter spheres of thought, action, and interaction that are new to you, or perhaps new to all those in your organization.

Perhaps you've already found yourself in a situation of much greater complexity and difficulty than you anticipated. Indeed, it may be one of those "Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into" moments. Hopefully, if this is your situation, you've also concluded that you cannot simply "fake it until you make it"; you need to sort things out, and soon.

Enough, then, about the situations that call for courage. What is the distinctive quality of courage that I am looking for when I say I want courageous clients?

The kind of personal development I am describing is elective, thus it's also avoidable. After all, we need not choose to take on more challenging levels of responsibility at work. But if we do, then we will show courage by acknowledging and responding to the objective and subjective dimensions of the challenge. Moreover, the latter must dealt with first. Let me explain.

Our desire to be the man/woman "they" think we are or hope we are can block our capacity to recognize that what they see in us is potential, a trajectory of capacity, not the actuality of that capacity. That is, it is expected that we have the ability to learn, grow, and develop if we are to become the further evolved leader that they and we want and expect to emerge.

About Fear, Love, and Performance

You've heard the expression, "don't let them see you sweat." Well, that can be apt in a crisis or in the context of an event, but it's flawed advice where personal development is concerned. "Sweat" in this context is fear - anxiety if you prefer - and courage involves getting close to it and deconstructing it, especially the parts that shake our confidence, cause us the greatest concern and self-doubt.

Okay, we all have egos, that conscious aspect of self that is who we are as an agent of self-conscious action. But our ego identity can also lead us to suppress parts of our true self, namely, any experience that may be incongruent what who we think we are, i.e., the experience of fear, doubts, and worries about being sufficient. When that happens, the ego becomes not who we are, but who feel we must pretend to be.

That pretense must be set aside to enable development. None of us is as able or intelligent, or as ready for the next big assignment as we might think we are. But many of us have unconsciously suppressed our fears because of an intense desire to advance - this is the "fake it until you make it" strategy. That may be a passable strategy in early career moves, but it seldom works for true stretch assignments that move us into senior leadership.

If you can't find a way to drop the mask of invincibility, to dwell with your fears and discomfort long enough to understand them, you won't be successful in your efforts to grow past your current level of competence. It's really that simple.

What helps us approach, examine, and overcome our fears? It's a certain kind of love. Specifically, in the presence of a skilled helper, we must experience the unconditional positive regard of the other for us as a person. It’s when we feel the helper's confidence and belief in us that real change becomes possible. We must also be able to experience their confrontation and challenge as love.

This kind of love does not conquer fear. Rather, it consoles, heartens, and encourages us in the face of fear. As Albert Schweitzer pointed out many years ago, given these conditions the "doctor within" is called to action. We find our will, trust, and faith in the relationship and in ourselves, which is sufficient to calm our fears and focus our energies.


Whatever business you're in, I suspect that you'll find this phenomenon applies to you in your work with customers and clients as well. Recognize that you cannot make the relationship work and yield sustainable success if your customer or client is not equally invested in that effort. Be honest about what you know and what you need to understand better about appraising that potential and cultivating the conditions for effective engagement. Then act on it.

We all face the need to "fish or cut bait" at critical moments in relationships with others. It's difficult to recognize that something can't work right now in a client relationship despite our best efforts, but often it is in addressing the issue directly that any potential changes of heart and mind do occur. And if they don't we've likely given ourselves and our client time to pursue other more productive and satisfying opportunities.

Follow-up Contact:

You are invited to contact the author directly with questions or comments. He can be reached at bill.macaux@generativityllc.com or phone at 401.885.1631.