“What would you do if you had 2% more courage?”: The Right Question at the Right Time

By Shawn Quinn

I recently was working with a senior partner of a multinational firm.  In this firm, the power structure sits within each country in the firm.  Every so often, the country firm goes through a process of narrowing the list of candidates who can take over as leader of the country firm.  Then the partners in that country vote to determine who the next leader will be.

This particular partner was among the candidates who could be voted in as country leader.  He had some concerns as he considered the difficult moves he believed these challenging economic times required.  A reduction in the number of partners—the very people who woulve vote for or against him—was just one of them. 

He figured if he told the other partners what he believed—that reducing the number of partners was crucial to the firm’s continued success—he would not likely get elected.  Yet he wanted the job.

At a leadership program, this partner had seized upon a question one of the workshop exercises posed: What would I do if I had 2% more courage?  As he considered the question in light of the upcoming election, he decided he would be honest with the other partners about what he thought was needed to make the firm successful.

If the partners didn’t like his message, he realized, then he didn’t really want to lead the firm. Staying true to his values and what he believed was important to him. If his country partners did elect him as leader, even after the hard messages, then he could move into the leadership position confident of their support and relaxed in knowing he had been completely honest with everyone.

What happened next is what is fascinating.  Not only was this partner elected to run the country firm, but he received 95% of his country partners’ vote.

This was shocking to him. But he was pleased he was able to stay true to who he was. And he was now more able to ask difficult things of the partners—not just because he told them it would be coming, but also because he himself had been willing to do the difficult thing, modeling the right behavior for the firm.

Think of an important situation you are currently dealing with.  What would you do if you had 2% more courage? The right question asked at the right time can be a very powerful thing.