Micro acts of bravery: why women in the C-suite need to speak up BY Bernadette Schwerdt
When we think about being brave, we often think of the bronzed lifesavers on Bondi Rescue pulling people from the surf, or firefighters rescuing a child from a burning building. Yes, these are indeed acts of bravery but the reality is few of us will ever be called to demonstrate these acts of ‘glamorous’ bravery.
As a result, we often don’t consider ourselves to be brave, or capable of acts of bravery.
But are we able to commit acts of micro bravery? I think so.
What is micro bravery?
Micro bravery is the art of doing little things that are difficult for us, things that take us outside our comfort zone, make us feel nervous, make us hesitate.
What I consider difficult for me may be different to what is difficult for you. There’s no ‘hierarchy’ of bravery. We’re all wired differently.
For example, asking the waiter to put my salad dressing on the side is not a big deal for me. For my 83-year old mother, it is. She sees that as being a nuisance. I see it as asking for what I want.
I have no hesitation in asking for directions. My husband would rather stick a needle in his eye.
In the workplace, you may be quite comfortable asking for a raise, year on year. Others break out in a sweat asking for petrol money to be reimbursed. Micro bravery is about accepting that you want to do something, that you feel uncomfortable doing it, but you go ahead and do it anyway.
What gets in the way of being micro brave?
Asking for what we want brings up micro fears. What will they think of me? What if I get it wrong? What if I look too aggressive? These micro fears stop us from stepping outside our comfort zone and cumulatively stop us from getting what we want at work, at home and in life.
These micro fears show up in all sorts of ways, many of which are short circuiting the progression of careers, especially those of women.
I was presenting at a conference for a big accounting firm recently.
After my session, the 200 attendees were asked to get into groups and brainstorm an idea, nominate a presenter and then deliver the findings to the wider group.
Here’s where it got interesting.
Whilst half the group were women, not one of them put their hands up to present.
I get why. Their micro-fears kicked in. They were worried they’d look stupid, get it wrong or commit a career limiting move. All valid reasons for not being micro-brave.
But it was an opportunity lost.
When the guys got up to present, yes, they were nervous, they were underprepared and people did laugh, not at them, but with them. They were applauded for taking a risk. They almost certainly had the same micro fears as the women, but demonstrated micro bravery by saying ‘yes’ anyway.
Incidentally, I overheard a partner talking about one of the guys who’d just presented. He said, “He’d be a good lead for that water project.”
Our micro fears are holding us back from getting ahead
One high-profile woman I trained in a recent workshop said, “I have been ducking and weaving for years and could always convince my senior managers to get up and speak instead of me. But now I’m the most senior in the team and there’s no one else who can do it but me!’
She had the good sense to accept that speaking up is a part of her job and that all she needed to do was demonstrate an act of micro bravery (in this case, get some training) and she could do it as elegantly as anyone else.
There is a cost to taking the podium. But there’s a greater cost if you don’t. Women have told me they have seen male colleagues get promoted after a presentation, a presentation they themselves could have given, and by rights, should have given. They kick themselves afterwards and rue a lost opportunity.
What is it costing you every time you shy away from speaking up? How are these micro fears holding you back?
5 micro bravery hacks:
We may never get the chance to rescue a drowning swimmer or fight fires, but when it comes to speaking up, we can demonstrate micro acts of bravery right now.
Identify what your micro fears are and recognise how they have held you back
Improve your micro skills by enrolling in a public speaking course or pop along to a Toastmasters meeting
Offer to do a low-stakes presentation at work (like farewell speech) to build up your micro-bravery ‘muscles’
Factor in rehearsal time before a presentation so you can deliver with confidence
Get to the venue early, breathe deeply, visualise the presentation going well and smile (even if you are scared, never let them see it!)
Bernadette Schwerdt is a presentation skills expert with a vast background in marketing and advertising. She is the founder of the Australian School of Copywriting and has pitched for (and won) major advertising accounts including Apple, American Express, BHP and Colgate, so knows what it’s like to have to deliver under pressure. She’s a judge for the Inside Small Business Awards, Anthill Cool Company Awards and the ORIAs (Online Retailers Industry Association). A best-selling author, blogger, copywriter, and regular on ABC Radio and Channel Nine’s The Small Business Show, Bernadette has trained thousands of SMEs to communicate with clarity.