Talk Is Easy; Courage Is Much Harder

Photography by Alexandra Novitskaya on

In business, and in life, talk is easy but setting principles by which you lead your business, and your life requires courage. Because one day, those principles will be tested and then everyone, including you, will know whether you and your business, are authentic and of integrity.

Can you list the principles, some would say values, traits or even virtues, by which you live?

In Business, We Make Promises

In business, you should always speak with care and integrity, knowing that each promise you make should be considered one of the principles by which you conduct yourself as a leader.

In business, leaders make many statements to entice customers and employees to support them in making their business a success. When it comes to customers, it’s about the value you promise to deliver and the ethics by which you conduct your business, for example, supply chain integrity. Customers will judge what you deliver and shift their buying somewhere else if you don’t fulfil your promises.

Employees are, however, in a different category. They don’t necessarily have the same flexibility as customers, but they are just as, if not more, important to the success of your business. Without the combined talent and effort of everyone who works within and with your business, the business will go nowhere. Their talent and effort are the core of the competitive strength of your business. The promises you make to them are critical to the enduring success of your business — make a promise, break a promise, and trust will be lost.

As a leader in business, where do you draw the line as to what I would term ‘puff-language’ seeking to build commitment and enthusiasm, and that which represents a promise based upon your principles? When is a promise something different to a principle? And is there really any place for ‘puff-language’ in leadership where trust is critical?

Truth and authenticity are the hallmarks of a worthy leader. Always be true to who you are as a person, and always insist that your business be authentic to whom it claims to be. This is strength in leadership but it often requires that you resist the profit-first motive that permeates many businesses.

Veneer or Foundation

In life, work and as a leader, the principles that you set as the cornerstone of who you are will either provide a foundation upon which you can build achievement after achievement, or a crumbling base that supports really nothing.

You may prefer to think of principles as with being values, traits or even virtues. I find depending on the person, principles can vary from being superficial to deep-seated — from being a veneer which can change overnight to being the core of who someone is. When I speak of principles, I am referring to those at your core.

Many people do not really reflect on the principles upon which they live, work and lead. But by way of analogy, not having set principles is like trying to construct the world’s tallest building without having thought about the foundations upon which it must stand. How can you build a life of enduring success when you have not set the right foundations?

Principles are not a veneer; they are not superficial to who you are. They are not something that you ascribe to depending on who is asking or which way the ‘social opinion wind’ is blowing. They’re not something you wear to fit in or not stand out. If principles are to be a real strength that defines who you are as a person, then they sit at the core of who you are.

I don’t believe principles arise from an academic exercise but rather emerge over time with experience and challenges. They are seeded through your upbringing in family, culture, faith, education and just life experiences, but when they are tested ‘in-fire’ then you know they are real.

If you were to pause now and write down what your foundational principles are, what would be on that list? What is it that makes you who you are and whom you aspire to be? What are the lines you will not cross, and more importantly, the rules that guide your life?


The core of your principles lay in how you treat with other people. That’s right, it’s not about you or your self-interest, it’s about others and how you relate to them. You could say treat others as you would like to be treated, for example, respect, humility, care, honesty, encouragement.

From this foundation of relationships, you can then step out to other attributes which build your ability to achieve goals that are important to you in your life, for example, persistence, determination, growth, excellence, discipline.

Principles anchor you in storms, in times of challenge and in periods of uncertainty when you are being pushed to respond or unsure which way to move. And principles provide you with a foundation upon which you can compound your efforts to build enduring success.

I believe principles, when you get them right, reside in your heart and guide your every action.

Courageous People

So, what has courage got to do with principles? Everything, because without courage, it is unlikely that you will be able to stand by your principles. Courage reflects your willingness to confront and withstand fear, humiliation, difficulty, uncertainty, pain and to step forward into adversity. And to be able and willing to do this personally, and in the role of a leader in your business.

It is your strength in standing by your principles and ensuring your business remains authentic to what it has promised and claimed, even if it carries significant financial cost. As a leader you need courageous people around youwho are willing to hold you and your business accountable to principles and promises. And you need people who have the courage to step forward and take the risks to make the business all it can possibly be, and then some.

You can be guaranteed that if you hold any principles in your life, then a time will come in which you will be challenged to surrender your principles and take an alternate course.

Few leaders, I fear, have the courage to stand firm.

But enduring success in life and business requires a courage, and faith, in what you have set as the principles by which you live and lead.


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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel



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