Boss Lady

Micro acts of bravery: why women in the C-suite need to speak up


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 consequence, we often don’t consider ourselves to be brave, or even capable of acts of bravery.

But are we able to commit acts of micro bravery?

What is micro bravery?

Micro bravery is the art of doing little things that are difficult for us, things which take us outside our comfort zone, make us feel nervous, make us hesitate. What one person considers difficult may be very different from what is difficult for another. There’s no ‘hierarchy’ of bravery. We’re all wired differently.

For example, my asking the waiter to put my salad dressing on the side is no big deal.  For my 83-year old mother, it is. Where I see it as asking for what I want, she sees that as being a nuisance. I never hesitate 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 every 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’. They manifest themselves in the questions our inner voices ask ourselves: 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. They show up in all sorts of ways, many of which are short-circuiting career progression, especially in women.

I was recently presenting at a conference for a big accounting firm. 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.

While half the group were women, not one of them put their hands up to be a presenter.  I get the reason why: their micro-fears kicked in. They were worried they’d look stupid, get it wrong or commit a career limiting move. All of which are valid reasons for not being micro-brave.

But the truth is, it was a lost opportunity. 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

In a recent workshop, a very high-profile woman I was training 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 can be a cost if you take the podium, but there will be a greater cost if you don’t.  Women have told me they’ve seen male colleagues get promoted after giving a presentation, one which they themselves could have, and by rights, should have given. They kick themselves afterwards and rue the lost opportunity.

Ask yourself: what is it actually costing you every time you shy away from speaking up? How are these micro fears holding you back?

5 micro bravery hacks:

Micro fears may not seem like much in isolation, but they can, and very often do, play a part in your prospects being limited and your success being held back. But there are some simple steps, or hacks, you can follow to un-do these self-destructive patterns.

  1. Identify what your micro fears are and acknowledge how they have held you back
  2. Improve your micro skills by enrolling in a public speaking course, or pop along to a Toastmasters meeting
  3. Offer to do a low-stakes presentation at work (such as a farewell speech) to build up your micro-bravery ‘muscles’
  4. Factor in rehearsal time before a presentation so you can deliver with confidence
  5. Get to the venue early, breathe deeply, visualise the presentation going well and smile (even if you are scared, never let them see it!)

So, while we may never get the chance to rescue a drowning person or fight fires, when it comes to speaking up, we can demonstrate micro acts of bravery right now.  There may not be public rewards for bravery, but your ongoing success should be reward enough.

About Bernadette Schwerdt

Bernadette Schwerdt is a dynamic presentation skills expert with a vast background in marketing and advertising. She 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.

Recommended for you

What Do You Think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *