So I got an email last week from the conference organizer, it said, "Good news! You're going after Van Jones." And I thought, "In whose alternate universe is it a good thing to follow Van?" And then I remembered I'm here to talk about courage - Our ability to act from our hearts in the face of fear, and courage as a skill that we can build with practice.
So thank you for this tremendous opportunity to practice. First, let's take a look at what does life look like without courage.
The Enron fraud is the story of synergistic corruption. There are supposed to be checks and balances in the system. The lawyers are supposed to say no, the accountants are supposed to say no, the bankers are supposed to say no, but no one who was supposed to say no said no.
So, has anything changed in the last 10 years? And, please, raise your hands when you've had enough. Yeah, me too. And it doesn't have to be this way. What if the people in these circumstances had the courage and the skills to act on their values in the face of fear?
I met a man who did in exactly one of those types of circumstances. We'll call him Ted. He found an illegal trading ring in his department, and he didn't know what to do, so he did nothing. And as the days passed and the stress built, he decided he would have to quit. He confided in his friend in another department, and his friend said to him, "If you went into the system, could you find the program?" And Ted said, "Yes." And his friend said, "Then you have no choice."
And what Ted says is he was reminded of who he was, of his values, in that moment, reflected by his friend. So he came forward, and justice prevailed.
I had my own subtle experience with powerful situations. I was working for a company, and I found out the CEO was doing something unethical and illegal. So I called a meeting with my boss, the CFO, and his other direct reports in a scenario that looked shockingly like this stock photo. And I went to deliver the news, and I knew he would struggle, although a very ethically driven man, the CEO is also a good friend of his.
So I delivered the news, and he looked at me and said, "I think we should do some more research and give it a little time." I was so dumbstruck by the answer that everything went into slow motion like it did when I was a kid playing soccer. And I looked around, and everyone has their head down or is slowly nodding. And I was so perplexed. I know these people, they're good people, and the last thing you want to do is put more time between when you know and when you say in a circumstance like this.
So I was confused, but the humbling part of the story for me is then my thought process goes to, "Maybe we don't have to do anything. Maybe it isn't such a big deal. I don't even have to say anything." And then I was given a gift, the CFO was called out of the room for a minute, and in that moment, I remembered, "This is one of those moments. This man hired me because he believed in me, he believed I would do my job and act on our shared values when it was hard."
He came back into the room, I stepped back into time, and I said, "We should go to the Board." And he paused, and he looked at me, and he nodded. And we did. But what I will never forget is that I am and we all are vulnerable to situational influence all the time - it's just natural human wiring.
This is from our founder Dr. Phil Zimbardo. He found this out in 1971 when he conducted the famous Stanford Prison Experiment that showed that even the most ethical and compassionate among us can easily betray our values in the face of a challenging situation.
I won't make you raise your hands for this one, but think back over the last six months - How many of you have been in a situation where you thought, "Someone should do something, or I should say something." And think of the subtle ones because those are often the ones that get us, and you and no one else did anything.
It's natural, it's a natural human tendency to be a bystander, to follow a leader or a group that we know is doing something wrong for sense of acceptance or sense of security. The good news is we get to choose. But first, it's even harder for us in business to do the right thing.
A research out of Harvard on ethical fading shows that when we're focused on operational objectives and you throw pressure on top - sounds familiar? The ethical implications of our acts will fade from our minds. Pay attention when people say, "This is business ..." And find out what they mean when they say that.
So now the good news is we get to choose. Between stimulus and response, there is a space, and our work is about using that space to get us to reconnect to our values, to our hearts, to our natural wisdom to act courageously. The kids in our program call it the magic pause button. The way we do that is we use something called Social Fitness Training; it was developed over 25 years by Dr. Lynne Henderson. And the great news about it is that with practice we can actually retrain our brains to override our natural fear response, to act consistently from our own values in the face of fear.
Start to think the key aspects of her work to remember, start to recognize your patterns - where do you stand up easily and where do you not? Once you know your patterns, practice the situations that scare you. We call them social flight simulations. And just like with pilots, if you practice with some level of fear, it creates the muscle memory so that when the actual moment arises, you can act in the way that you've practiced. You start to use that shot of fear or adrenaline as your cue for mindful action versus avoidance. In neuroscience, they call it "priming the brain."
So how do we foster these ethically courageous corporate cultures? Become a pattern interrupter - start to interrupt your own patterns, create your own pause button, create it for your teams and organizations. I think we can all agree if we look at the challenges facing our economic system, our political system, and the world at large, we're going to need a bigger pause button.
What I also know by our work is that we are all born with the innate capacity for courage. It's a choice, one I hope we'll all make, and it matters. Thank you.