Courage, a rare commodity

I look around my world and see a lot of courage. I see it on the news, I see it in the many people still out of work, and I see it when my daughter tries out for a sports team. It’s all around us, and it fuels where we are going. Courage is the fruit of change, and the seed of hope. Look around, do you see it?
I was proud to be invited recently to NHBR’s 2011 Outstanding Women in Business Award reception to witness several of my friends being recognized. What I witnessed was the fruit of courage. Each recipient told a story of overcoming odds, teamwork and bravery that goes beyond any reasonable quantity. It made me realize that many people are taking risks working to improve our world.One such example is Susanne Kuehl, president of the New Hampshire Dental Hygiene Association. Hygienists work as a team with other dental professionals, have highly specialized training, many having advanced degrees and certifications, and have a great deal of responsibility for the health of their patients. Susanne and her membership are professional, want to advance their field, want to do community hygiene work and just want to lead their profession in the direction it needs to go. Yet, they are governed by a board of dentists who may have different priorities and agendas for the hygiene profession. So Susanne and her board are advancing legislation with the help of Rep. John Cebrowski. A bill he has introduced, HB 452, will allow the hygienists to lead themselves and their profession into their future.

The process of progressSo how does this represent courage? Well, imagine organizing and putting forth legislation that your employer might not agree with – putting your professional reputation on the line to advance what you believe in, challenging the very institution you love and care about, so much so that you take great professional risk.Susanne and her board collected letters from their members in support of the bill, and many of these letters are unsigned because people fear for their jobs. This is courage, whether you agree with this particular legislation or not. This is not just theory or some minor event. This is an example of the micro battles of change that take place every day. This is the deliberation of progress and it takes courage.Our panel of entrepreneurs agreed that sometimes the best approach is to work around the institution because institutions are designed as stable entities. But sometimes people need to work through, challenge and cooperate with the institution they crave to stay with rather than leave. If you find yourself in a similar position, and want to step out and create internal change in your organization, consider the steps Susanne and her team took.• Seek the cooperative solution, not a one-sided battle that will create fear and resistance. There will be resistance, but the relationship among the stakeholders should be protected.• Benchmark best practices and provide the evidence necessary to convince others that what you are doing has value for everyone.• Focus on relationship and language to communicate, and sell your initiative to your members and those who will resist. Include people affected in the process, and allow them to contribute and represent. Allow others to be courageous with you.I have watched Susanne and her team evolve their legislation over the past year because my wife Charlene serves on her board. Watching my friends win their NHBR awards was inspiring, and watching Charlene and her professional colleagues be courageous makes me proud. There is no doubt that these women can be candidates for next year’s award. Stay courageous.

Dr. Russ Ouellette, managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm, is project manager of the Future of Everything. Core project participants on this topic included Jeremy Hitchcock, CEO of Dyn Inc., Melissa Albano, president of Grapevine Marketing, and David Roedel, partner of The Roedel Companies. For more information, contact 603-472-8103 or