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April 21, 2018

Small Business Advice

Courage is an essential business trait for entrepreneurs

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." ~ Nelson Mandela

Jerry Osteryoung | 1/27/2014

Aristotle called courage the first virtue because it makes all other virtues possible, and Ben Horowitz, a founding partner of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, said that great entrepreneurs have two key qualities: brilliance and courage.

“The reason for courage,” Horowitz says, “is that the other virtues that everyone wants to see in successful people – honesty, integrity, etc. – all flow from courage. And if you don’t have courage, in times of stress, honesty, integrity, and other virtues can quickly go by the wayside.”

Like all of us, even the most successful entrepreneurs have fears. In the business community, fears just go by a different name: risk. The best leaders are courageous enough to acknowledge these risks and keep moving forward in spite of them.

So why is courage so important? Because it allows us to make the decisions we need to make for the good of our organizations.

To illustrate this point, I was helping a firm deal with a problem employee. This employee was neither a team player nor a hard worker – just plain lazy, you might say – and his indifference was affecting the morale of the organization.

His manager had already spoken to this employee numerous times, and each time, the employee changed his behavior for a week or two only to revert right back to his old behavior.

The firm asked me to step in and help the manager deal with this problem. I spoke first to the manager, who agreed completely that the employee was a problem, but admitted he was not ready to let him go. He knew what had to be done, but did not have the courage to follow through.

Rather than resolving the problem, the manager was allowing it to continue out of fear, which was affecting the morale of the entire organization.

I was not able to get the manager to let the employee go immediately, but he did agree to a timetable. If certain things did not happen by the deadline, he would let the employee go – no more second chances.

Having a firm deadline allowed the manager to overcome his fears and do what needed to be done for the good of the company. He ultimately did let the employee go, and now that he understands that his fears were limiting him, he will be better able to react next time.

Every one of us is capable of being courageous. Finding your courage is a matter of understanding that fears are just feelings. They are inside of us, not external to us, and as such cannot harm us. Furthermore, feelings have a beginning and end. If we are brave and continue marching forward, we can ride out the fear until it expires on its own.

Now go out and make sure that your fears are not holding you back. If they are, acknowledge your feelings of fear and allow them to dissipate so you can find the courage to make the proper decision.

You can do this!

Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here.

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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