What is Intellectual Bravery?

Originally published What is Intellectual Bravery? on by https://www.innovate-aetc.org/inblog/what-is-intellectual-bravery at AETC


Everyone wants to innovate. Organizations want to gain the upper hand on the competition while strengthening the organizational movement of success. Unfortunately, leaders in organizations can stifle that very notion. Leaders and managers alike get in their way by sticking to old ideas and archaic methodologies that never move past challenging assumptions or redefining the status quo. Likewise, the same people neglect their subordinate’s ideas and creativity. Employees have great ideas and bold predictions for the future, only to turn around and be shot down by the management team. Organizational leaders lack the ability to accept intellectual bravery within the workplace. 


What is intellectual bravery? One author identified intellectual bravery as the willingness to disagree, dissent, or challenge the status quo in a setting of social risk in which you could be embarrassed, marginalized, or punished (Clark, 2020). When organizations cease pushing the boundaries of innovation, growth ceases and settles—delivering an organizational culture of stagnation and silence from employees. Leaders, though, can turn the frown upside down. Leaders are the enablers of the organization and with the right tools allow the work environment to endure… innovation can go unmatched. 


How do leaders build a culture of innovation and bravery in their organizations? For starters, leaders need to allow folks to speak their minds without the fear of chastising. When employees feel unheard, they revert to the turtle approach and hide, never to see again. Similarly, leaders need to allow for disagreements. Allow employees to challenge assigned tasks, have them pick apart flaws, and bring new solutions to old thinking. This also follows along with championing free thinkers. Employees should be allowed stretch their imagination within their assigned roles to promote growth in the organization. Moreover, employees will have setbacks. Leaders must provide positive criticism with empathy and acceptance. Finally, allow open dialogue and ensure employees understand their worth and that their voice has meaning in a chaotic world constantly changing. 


With intellectual bravery, leaders create an environment where innovative cultures thrive and can be bold. Instead of employees being fearful, they can be free to move and flourish without reprisal, permitted to challenge and ask what they need while allowing for mistakes to happen. When leaders cease intellectual bravery from happening… everything suffers. 



 Clark, T. R. (2020). To foster innovation, cultivate a culture of intellectual bravery. Harvard Business Review, 1–6. https://hbr.org/2020/10/to-foster-innovation-cultivate-a-culture-of-intellectual-bravery?autocomplete=true

Originally published AETC

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