This weekend, I read an article by Peter Bregman of HBR that has resparked my interest in the pursuit of courage and opportunity. Bregman challenged his readers to ask themselves these questions regularly:
1. What can I do, right now, that would be the most powerful use of this moment?
2. What can I say?
3. What action can I take?
4. What question can I ask?
5. What issue can I bring up?
6. What decision can I make that would have the greatest impact?
Asking these questions — and answering them honestly — is the path to choosing new actions that could bring better outcomes. The hard part is following through on the answers and taking the risks to reap the full benefits of each moment. That takes courage. But it’s also what brings the payoff.”
Bregman goes on to tell the story of Michael Pollack, a freshmen student at Vanderbilt University, who raised his hand during a visit by Billy Joel and asked to accompany him on piano. Billy Joel said “okay” and their astounding spontaneous collaboration has been viewed over 2.5 million times on YouTube.
What you can’t hear on the video is Michael’s reply when Billy asks “What key do you do play it in?”. Michael replied, “What key do you want it in?”. That caused many oohs and aahs from the audience. That brief interaction and the following performance showed that Michael was not just courageous enough to ask for his opportunity, he was ready for it!
As Bregman says, “having the courage to take the kind of bold action that creates new opportunities is, possibly, the most critical skill a leader can have. It’s why leadership development should involve experiences that hone emotional courage, and the communication abilities necessary to use it productively”.