LifeXchange

Fight Like a Brave: The Circle of Courage and More Resilient Teams at Work

When crisis strikes, will your team rally behind you? That’s what the Circle of Courage for your business is all about

Did you know that up to 60% of companies fall apart when faced with a crisis? One theory is that during a crisis, you really need emotionally resilient people in your team or workforce. And resilience is exactly what the human developmental model called the Circe of Courage is about. 

So in this post, we ask, what would the four aspects of the Circle of Courage look like applied to your business?

WHAT IS THE CIRCLE OF COURAGE?

It’s a model that describes how people continually develop, personally and socially, from youth and through into adulthood, and it’s divided into four aspects or components that lead to people being more resilient in life – Belonging, Mastery, Independence and Generosity (more on those later).

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It was created by American researchers Dr Brendtro, Dr Brokenleg and Dr Van Bockern in 1990. And if that one name – Dr Brokenleg – caught you a by surprise, that’s actually one of the keys to how this theory was developed: 

HOW THE CIRCLE COURAGE WAS CREATED

Dr Martin Brokenleg is an elder of the Lakota, a Native American tribe – you know, the American Indians. And he’s an accomplished researcher and professor, which is not something we generally associate with the Native American communities of today. It’s no secret that today Native Americans are one of the most poverty-stricken groups in the US. And that comes with a whole host of social dilemmas – including the “epidemic levels” of alcoholism noted among the general Native American population.

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Left to right: Dr Brendtro, Dr Brokenleg and Dr Van Bockern

But, Dr Brokenleg and his co-researchers said that obviously not all Native Americans suffer the general “ills” faced by the bulk of their people. So they looked into why. Why are some Native Americans able to overcome where so many others struggle to adapt? And they made an astounding discovery: Some tribes breed more resilient people. And those resilient individuals are better equipped to face life’s challenges.

WHAT IS RESILIENCE AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Resilience is a way of describing how people cope or adapt when they face adversity in life. And experts have studied resilience for a long time, trying to understand why some people bounce back from tragic events or loss or a setback more quickly than others. And also, why some people tend to get stuck and can’t move past an “obstacle” in their way.

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Now, many psychologists and researchers have studied resilience on the individual level, but there’s also Business Resilience which looks at how quickly companies adapt to disruptions while still keeping normal operations going.

And, according to the global Business Continuity Institute: “During and after a crisis, it is the resilience of the people that make up an organisation’s community that get it back on its feet and working again.”

So, what can we learn about building a more resilient workforce from Dr Brokenleg et al.’s Circle of Courage model?

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THE FOUR ASPECTS OF THE CIRCLE OF COURAGE

The Circle of Courage identifies four vital components (called Spirits) in human development – including how relationships develop between an employee and their employer. Each component talks to a core belief that develops inside each of us in relation to other people (or the company we work for). And our core belief is demonstrated in our behaviour.

So, when you develop positively in any given aspect (Spirit) of the Circle of Courage, you’ll see positive behaviour. And vice versa. They all flow into one another, meaning it starts with the first one and then flows into the second, then third etc. And only when a person’s beliefs are fully developed in all four spirits do we get truly resilient people.

Also important to note: This was created using Native American tribes as a model, but it applies to all people of all races and creeds – everywhere:

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1 BELONGING

Do your team members really feel like they belong? Really. Deep inside themselves, do they know that at this company, with these people, this is where they belong? It’s important because it’s the foundation of any relationship – including employer-employee ones. And from the research done, belonging only comes from mutual trust and respect.

So, the better question is: Do your team members feel trusted and respected? If not, they will probably show deviant behaviour, especially in times of distress. If belonging is missing, we see people become loners, form cliques, becoming overly dependent, constantly seeking approval and feeling too afraid to take charge and figure things out for themselves.

On the other hand, when people feel they belong they form healthy bonds with their peers, they become friendlier and inspire trust, adding to your company’s social capital.

PLUS: Note the similarity between the spirit of Belonging here and “Being Valued” in Erik Erikson’s theory on human development and how it affects employee motivation. And compare this with the value of “Connection” in LifeXchange’s own Human Development Cycle.

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2 MASTERY

Do your team members feel like you are investing in their growth and competency? People develop some of the most highly prized attributes in business – problem-solving skills, motivation, persistence, competence and creativity – only if we create a culture of learning inside our businesses. If we allow people to learn, develop and grow continually.

It sounds simple enough, but there’s a very deep-running culture in most companies that people are hired as supposed “experts” in their field and they are here to prove themselves. That’s why people get stuck. And the result is demotivated employees who fear challenges and avoid taking risks at all costs – or the opposite: cheaters, workaholics and arrogant people who take unnecessary risks.

PLUS: Note the similarity between the spirit of Mastery here and “Mastery” described in Erik Erikson’s theory on human development and how it affects employee motivation. And compare this with the value of “Competency” in LifeXchange’s own Human Development Cycle.

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3 INDEPENDENCE

Ah, the big one for most companies: Do your people feel like they are free to come up with their own solutions? When we focus on developing employees’ sense of independence within the company they learn to think for themselves in times of crisis, they become more confident, responsible and disciplined, plus we groom better leaders this way.

But when we micromanage every aspect of an employee’s day – sit here, do it this way, use this template, be at work this time – and continually coerce people into doing things a certain way, it leads to distorted behaviours. People become manipulative, rebellious, undisciplined and irresponsible. Why? Have a look at what happens when employees experience mental pushback.

PLUS: Note the similarity between the spirit of Independence here and “Autonomy” described in Erik Erikson’s theory on human development and how it affects employee motivation. And compare this with the value of “Responsibility” in LifeXchange’s own Human Development Cycle.

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4 GENEROSITY

Do your people willingly share their skill and knowledge with their peers? It might sound crazy, but it’s one of the deepest and most inherent human needs. And you can imagine how beneficial it’ll be in your business if all your employees find joy in sharing what they know with new employees – training will become a breeze.

When people develop the spirit of generosity we see them become more supportive, loyal and empathetic with others – things we’d all love to see in our businesses. But, if something goes wrong earlier on, or in the development cycle, we see people become more selfish, co-dependent, disloyal, anti-social and – quite frankly – likely to quit their job and move to another company the first chance they get. Sound familiar?

But it’s important to realise that the circles all flow into each other. So, if you see distorted behaviour in the Generosity side – people not sharing or caring about their co-workers – you’ve likely missed something in one of the earlier circles.

PLUS: Note the similarity between the spirit of Generosity here and “Purpose” described in Erik Erikson’s theory on human development and how it affects employee motivation. And compare this with the value of “Purpose” in LifeXchange’s own Human Development Cycle.

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OK, HOW DO I GET THIS TO WORK IN MY BUSINESS?

No two businesses are the same. And the Circle of Courage is just one theory on building resilient teams – also see our post on Erikson’s Theory and know that LifeXchange Solutions have developed our own unique model specifically for businesses called Human Development Cycle.

But fortunately, this is exactly what we at LifeXchange do. We help organisations manage complex change, build resilient teams and ultimately grow your business through organisational development. Check out our awesome organisational management solutions.


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