The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Courage

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There are many different views of courage. One approach is to focus on when people demonstrate calmness, clarity and the courage to follow their convictions. They translate their beliefs into action, especially in challenging situations.

Here is one definition of courage from the Oxford Dictionary. It emphasises how the origin of the word comes from the Latin ‘cor’ for heart.


Middle English (denoting the heart, as the seat of feelings): from Old French corage, from Latin cor ‘heart’.


Have the courage of one’s convictions.

Act on one’s beliefs despite danger or disapproval: lead your own life and have the courage of your convictions.

Looking back, when have you followed your convictions in a critical situation? What did you do to translate your beliefs into action? What were the specific outcomes – the pluses and any minuses – of you demonstrating courage in the situation?

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

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Let’s explore some qualities that people often demonstrate when following their convictions.


People who show courage sometimes report feeling calm in the challenging situation. Sometimes it is sparked by anger, but then it leads to a strange sense of calm and a steely determination.

What they do may appear brave to others, but they say: “It was the natural thing to do.”

Samuel and Pearl Oliner described this phenomenon in their book The Altruistic Personality. This chronicled the activities of people who protected Jews during the Holocaust.

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.

The rescuers committed themselves to helping Jews, even at great risk. Why? Many said: “It was the right thing to do.” They said things like:

“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 report a similar sense of obligation when confronted by disasters. They sacrifice their own safety in order to help others.

Rosa Parks became a symbol for the civil rights movement when she chose to remain in her seat on the bus in Montgomery, rather than give it up for a white man. Her action in December 1955 led to a bus boycott that lasted over a year until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the segregation law was unconstitutional

Rosa said that her action was spontaneous after a day working as a seamstress, but that she felt the strength of her ancestors behind her. She later explained:

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day.

“I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

RosaparksRosa Parks with Martin Luther King Jr. in the background.

Looking back, what feeling did you have before embarking on following your convictions? People who take this step seem to draw on strength from their deepest values. Looking the challenge they face, they than move to the next stage.


People who follow their convictions have a strong sense of clarity. Sometimes this is instinctive. Looking back at how they behaved in the challenging situation, they say:

“I believed it was the right thing to do.”

Rosa Parks knew what she wanted to do when asked to vacate her seat on the bus. Only later did this mushroom into a huge movement for civil rights.

A solder believes it is the right thing to do to rescue their colleague stranded in no-man’s land. Bob Geldof believed it was the right thing to do to raise money through Band Aid after seeing a film about starvation in Africa.

People who follow their convictions often go beyond having an instinctive response. They clarify their chosen strategy for achieving the picture of success.

Different people will use different approaches to clarify their goals, options and the way forward. Some follow the classic approach to creative problem solving. They focus on clarity, creativity and concrete results.

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The person starts by clarifying the challenge. They then focus on the real results they want to achieve and translate this into a clear picture of success. They also clarify what they can control in the situation.


The person clarifies their possible options for moving forwards, together with the pluses and minuses of each route. They also clarify the attractiveness of each option. Bearing these things in mind, they may also explore other potential creative solutions.

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Concrete Results

The person commits to their chosen route. If appropriate, they make clear working contracts with other people. They then pursue their chosen strategy and do their best to achieve their picture of success.

Looking back at when you followed your convictions, did you have a clear picture of success? If so, did you have this straight away or did it evolve as you moved forward?

How did you clarify your strategy? Did you formulate this instinctively or did you also use your intellect?

What was the process you went through to consider the options? What did you then do to commit to your chosen way forward? This takes us to the next stage.


People make commitments all the time. Courageous people go one step further. They commit to the commitment. They commit to doing whatever is required to achieve their chosen goal.

Courage can take different forms. Sometimes it can be a one-off act when facing a challenging situation. Sometimes it can be maintaining the habit of doing the right things in the right way every day.

A person who remains grateful despite having a crippling illness, for example, may say things like:

“I have chosen to count my blessings. The other option was to give up, but I prefer to carry on. I want to show how it is possible to enjoy life and help other people, even when having such an illness.”

Courageous people live in what the existentialists call good faith. They aim to follow their values, especially when times get tough. Living in good faith gives them even more strength to pursue their chosen path each day.

Courage can become a habit. Returning to the original Latin, it means acting from the heart, not just listening to the heart. It means acting on our beliefs, not just talking about them. Such courage can nurture a sense of calm in our heart.

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

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to demonstrate the courage to follow your convictions.

Describe the specific things you can do then to follow your convictions.

Describe the specific outcomes that may result – both the pluses and any minuses – of following your convictions in that situation.

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