How courageous are you?

June 16, 2020

By Martha Sullivan, CPA, CVA/ABV, CM&AA, CEPA
Partner, Succession Planning Practice Leader

Martha leads HK’s succession and exit planning services division and is a regular contributor to Wisconsin’s InBusiness digital magazine.

How courageous are you feeling these days?

This is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. Sometimes it’s in relation to my health and my family members’ health. Other times it’s in relation to participating in conversations around the current social and political events. Of course, it’s always in the back of my mind about growing my business.

These past few weeks provided many opportunities to challenge myself. My son, who lives in Minneapolis not far from downtown, and his wife temporarily moved home while tensions and unrest were so high. They were experiencing the death of George Floyd differently than we here in Madison were. They literally and figuratively had a front-row seat to the peaceful and non-peaceful marches and protests in the neighborhoods they frequent. While our entire family was reeling, they were more traumatized due to the proximity and reports of peaceful friends caught in dangerous situations.

At one point, he asked me a question that was very challenging, that cut to the core of my values and my thoughts on ways to move forward in the face of complex, systemic issues. What became clear in the conversation was, in retrospect, fascinating.

Our values are completely aligned, but our approaches are less so. At times, the debate and conversation became heated as our differences became apparent. Yet, somehow, we all recognized that we needed to talk through the differences to get to the other side. Sometimes I needed to simply quiet my mouth and brain and listen. Other times, it was his turn to do so.

What also became abundantly clear is that there was not one single “right” approach. The issues of racial and social justice, community health and safety, and systemic change are so complex that there are a wide variety of problems to be solved. I don’t have the answers — far from it — but envision it will take different constituencies and teams coming together to get things done and make incremental improvements that add up to lasting change. Some teams may be together for a long time and others will be bursts of energy to achieve a goal before they disband and move on to the next one. My son’s approaches can complement mine. There are more than enough issues to be solved.

The same is true in our companies. The “Roaring ’20s” are giving us a tremendous opportunity to be courageous in ways that come along once in a lifetime. This collision of public health, economic, and social justice crises is testing every one of us.

In my May posts “The Power of Process” and “Paddling in Circles Without a Plan,” I challenged us all to think about how we set our goals, commit to planning, and examine our processes in the face of the pandemic and economic crisis, and mapped out a path to do so. By itself, that demanded courage. One month later, I’m viewing the first five months of 2020 as a dress rehearsal for demonstrating even greater courage in leadership of our teams and companies.

Our employees, colleagues, customers, and suppliers are as stressed out and fatigued as are we. There’s a push to get back to “normal,” yet, to my mind, that is the opposite of courage. That is squandering the chance we have been handed to engage our peers, team members, customers, and suppliers in solving the problems facing the business and the community in which we live and work. It’s avoidance that will manifest itself in our relationships due to missed connections and meaningful conversations. We will miss the mark in understanding what is important to each party and how to bridge differences in our approaches toward a common goal or outcome. You and your company deserve better. We can do better.

So, how courageous are you?

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