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The Keys to Building a Courageous Staff

4 May, 2015 By: Shelley F. Hall, Catalytic Management

I’m sure you remember the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. Despite his heritage as king of the jungle, this lion lacked courage. How much courage does your staff possess when it comes to coping with unhappy customers or clients? Do your employees own their mistake, face up to it, and fix it for the customer? Do they learn from it? They’d better!

In working with a salesperson for a large non-profit, I asked how a recent client meeting had gone. The salesperson replied: “It went great. The problem we had last month never came up. I feel like I dodged a bullet.” After taking a deep breath, I explained to the sales person that it was his responsibility to bring up the issue, discuss it, confirm that the client was satisfied with the resolution, and promise it would never happen again. But such action takes courage! If your employees lack this requisite courage, how do you help them build it?

Keys to Build a Courageous Staff

  • Give your staff the ability & authority to solve customer problems. If employees go to a superior, they will be less likely to accept responsibility for the resolution.
  • Encourage risk-taking by creating a safe landing; coach your employees through the process.
  • Give your staff opportunities to demonstrate courage when the stakes aren’t as high; praise them for being courageous.
  • Reward honesty and personal responsibility.
  • Create company policies and procedures that are built upon honesty.
  • Most importantly, lead by example.

Your customers and/or clients expect and deserve to be treated with respect, honesty, and integrity. Admitting mistakes – especially before the customer raises the problem – and then quickly resolving them is the foundation for good customer service.

Years ago, while working as VP of Sales for a tech firm, for a client who was one of the largest financial investment firms in the country, I learned a valuable service lesson. One of our staff members was arrogant and condescending to the students in a technology class. His behavior was rude and inexcusable. When the client called me to express her displeasure, I immediately apologized, assured her the instructor would be replaced the next day, and asked for the contact information for each student so that I could personally apologize.

It was a humiliating and embarrassing experience, and the instructor was subsequently fired. Later the client told me that she was impressed with the speed of our response, and most importantly, she was impressed that I didn’t “pull the dodge” (her words) of saying I needed to speak with the instructor first before providing a resolution.

In my mind, it didn’t matter what the instructor may or may not have said in his defense – our client was unhappy and that issue needed to be resolved immediately. The offending instructor later admitted his poor behavior, hence his termination, but even if he had been less at fault (for whatever reason), the original fact remained: the client was not happy.

“It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, and more manhood to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex." -Alex Karras
American Football Player/Actor

It takes courage to admit your mistakes and take responsibility, and fix a problem even if you didn’t commit the mistake. Customers/clients expect you to demonstrate that courage and repair the relationship as quickly as possible. Your role as a leader is to build that courage into your team so that whenever and wherever a mistake occurs, the resolution is quick and straightforward. Imbue your team with the courage that Dorothy (“in Oz”) displayed as she faced frightening odds of ever getting home.


Shelley F. Hall, author of Brick Wall Breakthrough–What The @#$% Do I Do Next? Actions for Exceptional Sales and Service (Page Court Press) is Principal, Managing Director of Catalytic Management LLC, a leading management consulting firm delivering training that accelerates business growth through improved sales, service and process improvement. As a thought leader, Shelley writes frequently for major business journals such as Business Performance Management Magazine, CEO.com, The Handbook of Business Strategy, Women's Business, ManageSmarter and Sales and Service Excellence, Chief Learning Officer and is a sought after business advisor and speaker. Visit CatalyticManagement.com.

About the Author: Shelley F. Hall

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