The Art of Strengths Coaching

B is for Being Brave Because You Have Nothing To Lose

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Yasuteru Yamada gathered hundreds of volunteers who offered to clean up after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. The group was made up of elderly scientists, engineers and others who wanted to replace the younger people clearing up the radiation.

Speaking on behalf of what became known as the Skilled Veteran Corps for Fukushima, Yasuteru said:

“I am 72 and on average I probably have 13 to 15 years left to live. Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop. Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer.”

The group’s offer was not taken up, but the example of Yasuteru and his colleagues became known around the world. The volunteers demonstrated the power of people who feel they have much to give and nothing to lose.

Some sports players seem to perform better when they have nothing to lose. When trailing in a game, for example, they may feel freer and more able to express themselves.

What happens if they fight back and take the lead? Sometimes they feel tense and start worrying. Such negative energy can cramp their game and lead to defeat.

Looking back, can you recall a situation when you chose to be brave because you had nothing to lose? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have been going for a job interview and, thinking you did not have much chance, dared to surprise people by outlining what you would really do in the role.

You may have been doing a sales pitch and, feeling it was slipping away, dared to suggest another supplier might be more suitable.

Or you may have been in another situation when you simply decided to go for it and to hell with the consequences.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you were brave because you had nothing to lose.

Describe the specific things you did to be brave. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

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Different people choose different ways to be brave. Here are some steps they may take in certain situations.

Step One: Being prepared
to tackle the challenge 

Looking back, can you think of a time you actively chose to tackle a difficult challenge? Confronted by a daunting situation, you may have said something like:

“I am prepared to tackle the challenge. If not me, then who will do it? I want to opt in and do my best to achieve success.”

Brené Brown, the author of Daring Greatly, describes how courage often means being prepared to embrace vulnerability. It calls for daring to be creative rather than being a critic. You can discover more about her work via the following link.

Daring Greatly

Brené quotes Theodore Roosevelt’s speech called The Man In The Arena, which he gave at The Sorbonne in 1910. Here is the extract which has become famous.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Being brave calls for being prepared to step into the arena. As some people say: “Give me one volunteer, rather than ten conscripts.” It is to choose to step forward and tackle the challenge.

Step Two: Being prepared to prepare
properly for tackling the challenge 

People who demonstrate bravery sometimes seem to act spontaneously. They may have done masses of preparation, however, which result in them acting this way.

People also show different kinds of bravery. These include spiritual, strategic and spontaneous bravery. These themes have more in common than may appear. They can also be expressed in different forms, such as philosophical, psychological or physical bravery.

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Spiritual Bravery

A person may spend years of preparation following their spiritual beliefs, for example, which then enable them to tackle a specific challenge. They find it perfectly natural to maintain their integrity and follow their values. They may say things like:

“It was the right thing to do, I had no choice.”

Such a person did have choices. They could choose: a) To live in good faith and follow their values; b) To live in bad faith and not follow their values. Each choice had consequences.

Strategic Bravery

Some people who act bravely do so in an intelligent rather than instinctive way. They do their due diligence and are calculated rather than foolhardy.

Such people often focus on the following themes when faced by a challenge. Bearing in mind what they can control, they also ask some of the following questions.


What is actually happening in the situation? What are the successful and unsuccessful patterns? What will be the consequences of these things happening?

What can be done in the situation? What are the real results to achieve? What is the picture of success?


What are the potential options for tackling the challenge? One option is to do nothing. The other options – together with the pluses and minuses of each option – are: 

Option A is to … The pluses are … The minuses are …  

Option B is to … The pluses are … The minuses are … 

Option C is to … The pluses are … The minuses are …

Are there any other potential options? 

Concrete Results

Which is the route I want to follow? What are the three key things I can do to increase the chance of success? What is the kind of support that will be required? 

What are the potential problems along the way? How can I prevent these problems happening? How can I manage the problems if, despite everything, they do happen?

Bearing these factors in mind, what do I want to do? How can I translate these into a clear action plan? How can I get some quick successes? What else can I do to increase the chances of success? 

This sounds a long process, but some people go through the stages quickly. They then decide to pursue their chosen route.

Spontaneous Bravery

“What about people who act on impulse?” somebody may ask. “They seem to act straight away, rather than think through the options.”

Certainly this is true in some cases. You hear about individuals springing into action to disarm somebody who is threatening others and, in the process, putting themselves in danger.

When interviewed, they say things like: “I did not think about myself. It was the obvious thing to do.”

Samuel and Pearl Oliner spent decades studying people who acted in extraordinary ways to help others. Their books include The Altruistic Personality and Do Unto Others: Extraordinary acts of ordinary people, how altruism inspires true acts of courage. 

The Altruistic Personality chronicles the activities of people who protected Jews during the Holocaust. Somewhere up to 500,000 non-Jews risked their own lives to rescue the victims of Nazi persecution.

These were ordinary people, say Pearl and Samuel. They were farmers, teachers, entrepreneurs, factory workers, rich and poor, parents and single people, Protestants and Catholic.

Different people helped the Jews in different ways. Some offered them shelter, some helped them escape from prison and some smuggled them out of the country.

The rescuers committed themselves to helping Jews, knowing that capture would mean death for their families. Why?

Many rescuers said simply: “It was the right thing to do.” This ethic often sprang from growing up in families in which they were taught to respect other people and faiths. Here are some things that the individuals said.

“I was always filled with love for everyone, for every creature, for things. I am fused into every object. For me everything is alive.”

“I sensed I had in front of me human beings that were hunted down like wild animals. This aroused a feeling of brotherhood and a desire to help.”

“We had to help these people in order to save them, not because they were Jews, but because they were persecuted human beings who needed help.”

People who demonstrate bravery may have done different kinds of preparation. This provides a personal compass that enables them to decide which route the want to follow in a particular situation. They then step into the arena.

Step Three: Being prepared to keep doing the basics
and then being
brave when tackling the challenge

Great workers believe in getting the basics right when they enter the arena. They may be fire fighters rescuing people from a burning building, athletes running in an Olympic Final or people tackling a daunting challenge. Getting the basics right provides the platform for achieving success.

Looking ahead, can you think of a challenge you may want to tackle that may involve you being prepared to be brave? You may want to start a business, develop your career, make a transition, be proactive in dealing with a potential illness or whatever.

The first step may be to gather lots of information. Bearing in mind what you can control in the situation, it may then be important:

To clarify the real results you want to achieve – the picture of success.

To clarify the key strategies you can follow to give yourself the greatest chance of success and translate these into a specific action plan.

To keep doing the basics – the right things in the right way every day – and then add the brilliance or bravery that will enable you to achieve your picture of success.

People sometimes choose to be brave by daring to be different. Savvy individuals, however, recognise the rule that:

If you are going to be a deviant, you have to over-deliver.

You need to keep delivering the goods because otherwise people will try to find ways to get you. Nevertheless, such individuals sometimes say things like:

“I believe in doing things my way and doing my best to succeed. This is not brave or risky; it is common sense.

“If I don’t do things my way and don’t succeed, then I have lost twice.”

Gordon Mackenzie inspired many people to follow their values and do creative work within organisations. He wrote Orbiting The Giant Hairball: A corporate fool’s guide to surviving with grace.

He spent 30 years working for the Hallmark Card Company. During this time he managed to orbit successfully around what he called the hairball of organisational bureaucracy.

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Gordon believed that every person was an artist. Some people could choose to express their talents by being a freelancer. Others would go into organisations and try to change them from the centre.

Both routes were options, said Gordon, but there was also another route. This was to contribute to an organisation by orbiting the centre, rather than by allowing it to cramp your creativity. He said:

“Orbiting is vibrancy. Orbiting is manifesting your originality. It’s pushing the boundaries of ingrained corporate patterns.

“It’s striking a relationship with the corporation so that you can benefit from what it offers – its physical, intellectual, and philosophical resources – without being sucked in by its gravitational pull.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship: without the hairball, the orbiter would spiral into space; without the orbiter’s creativity and originality, the hairball would be a mass of nothing.”

Gordon encouraged people to keep daring. Certainly it was vital to fulfil your obligations to the organisation that paid your wages. At the same time, however, it is important to express your creativity. He said:

“Everyone has a masterpiece within them from birth.

“When we are young, society draws pale blue lines, as if your life were a paint-by-numbers kit. The message is: If you stay in the lines your life will be a masterpiece. That’s a lie. You have to constantly battle to be nobody but yourself.

“What is the biggest obstacle to creativity? Attachment to outcome.

“As soon as you become attached to a specific outcome, you feel compelled to control and manipulate what you’re doing and in the process you shut yourself off to other possibilities.

“Creativity is not just about succeeding. It’s about experimenting and discovering.”

Gordon died in 1999, soon after the publication of Hairball. He urged people to continue gaining enriching experiences. The final sentences of his book are:

“If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you.”

Below is a video in which Tom Kelley, the founder of IDEO, describes the value of Gordon’s message. He urges people to continue to be artists and dare to be creative in their daily lives and work.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking to the future, can you think of a situation where you may want to be brave because you have nothing to lose?

You will certainly do the basics, because you want to create a platform for success. But then, on top of this, you are prepared to dare greatly.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may be prepared to be brave because you have nothing to lose.

Describe the specific things you can do to take these steps. 

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of being brave.

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