Learn More About Jim Detert
What does it mean to be courageous at work and how does it impact leaders, teams, and organizational effectiveness? How can leaders model an environment of open communication where it’s safe for all to speak up?
Jim Detert (“DEE-tert”), an award-winning social scientist who focuses on improving the agency and effectiveness of individuals and the cultures within which they work, is the leading expert on the role of workplace courage. By centering on not just the what but also the how of building a culture of honest communication and emboldened action, Detert gives leaders and employees the tools to improve their odds of successful interactions despite feelings of risk or fear.
“We have to drop the myth that there’s a personality type for courage. There is no such thing. Courage is simply the willingness to act despite fear,” explains Detert, the John L. Colley Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. “By teaching executives and managers specific skill sets and actions, they will learn how to manage difficult interactions and follow up accordingly.”
By encouraging organizations to build the everyday management skills that have become underappreciated and undervalued in today’s environment – including constructively challenging bosses, confronting peers, and giving difficult feedback to subordinates – Detert empowers managers to lead with values and competence, inspiring teams to communicate openly and effectively.
Climb the Courage Ladder to Conquer Fear
Detert’s research shows that most employees sometimes remain silent when they know they should speak up due to a combination of fear and lack of confidence in their communication skills in high-stress, emotion-laden situations. Explaining that these skills can indeed be taught, he provides leaders with concrete strategies for developing and practicing what he calls “competent courage,” allowing managers to model healthy interpersonal communication and foster a culture of courage.
Whether the goal is managing difficult interpersonal conversations more effectively or persuading top leaders to adopt systemic change and innovation, Detert’s talks and workshops are based in deeply researched tools that help take organizational communication to the next level. Detert’s unique high intensity learning process – The SUCCESS Method – includes the building of a “courage ladder” and personalized simulations of specific conversations to build skills with high likelihood of transfer to on-the-job challenges.
“Everybody has a set of rungs on a ladder that go from ‘it’s a little frightening’ to ‘it’s terrifying,’” explains Detert, author of “Choosing Courage: The Everyday Guide to Being Brave at Work” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2021). “The key to moving forward individually is to build and climb your own courage ladder and start practicing ways to be courageous enough to change cultures.”
Ensure Psychological Safety to Build True Learning Organizations
A collaborator with Harvard Business School Professor and psychological safety pioneer Amy Edmondson, Detert stresses that leaders must create an environment of psychological safety as a vital starting point for organizational learning to take place.
“Leader behavior is the most important lever for creating a culture of psychological safety,” Detert explains. “For leaders to get the input they need to be a learning organization, employees must feel safe being honest with their feedback at every stage of the process.”
The ability to lead with competent courage is critical for any leader interested in psychological safety. “There’s no point espousing the importance of psychological safety,” says Detert, “if you as a leader won’t courageously step up and challenge the norms, practices and people who are making it feel unsafe to speak up or take prudent risks.” Detert advises leaders to drop the practice of “encouraging courage” and replace that with courageous actions of their own that make courage less necessary for those they lead.
Jim Detert is the John L. Colley Professor of Business Administration and the E. Thayer Bigelow Research Chair in the Leadership and Organizational Behavior area at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration and a Professor of Public Policy at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Prior to joining UVA, he was a tenured full professor at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Detert has written dozens of leadership- and ethics-related cases and experiential learning materials and designed and delivered classes and workshops to thousands of learners at all levels around the world. He has received numerous awards for his teaching in both MBA and Executive MBA programs.
Detert’s research and consulting focuses on workplace courage, why people speak up or stay silent at work, ethical leadership and decision-making, and experiential leadership development. His research has appeared in all the top academic management journals and has won several best paper awards. He is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review, and the author of the book “Choosing Courage: The Everyday Guide to Being Brave at Work” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2021).
Detert received his M.A. in sociology and Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Harvard University. He also holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota and a BBA from the University of Wisconsin.
Jim Detert is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.
Lead By Bringing Everyday Courage to the Workplace
University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Jim Detert, Ph.D., is the leading expert on workplace courage and, specifically, the challenges of getting people to speak up effectively at work. A social scientist whose focus is on improving individual agency and effectiveness at work, he offers experiential learning opportunities for leaders at all organizational levels. By showing how to lead with competent courage, he empowers employees to take the bold actions necessary for individual and organizational learning and effectiveness – giving honest feedback, challenging norms, changing practices, and taking innovative action. Detert’s research-backed frameworks allow leaders to learn, practice, and apply the mindsets and behaviors needed to foster a high-performing, high-engagement, psychologically safe work environment. He is available to discuss any or all of the following topics in programs that can be customized to meet the needs and goals of your organization with the added option of meeting virtually or in-person.
- Speaking Up and Standing Out at Work Through Everyday Courage
- Leading with Competent Courage
- Practical Strategies for Modeling Desired Behaviors for a Safe Work Environment
- How to Build Your Courage Ladder
- Perfecting Persuasive Communication Strategies
Create and Climb Your Courage Ladder
Everyone has a courage ladder, from feeling that a situation is slightly frightening at the bottom to truly terrifying at the top. The key to creating everyday courage is to build and climb our own personal ladder one rung at a time. In this highly interactive workshop, University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Jim Detert, author of “Choosing Courage,” guides participants through identifying their own challenging situations and empowering them to create and practice strategies and tools for successfully navigating them. Attendees will be able to take these practical tools and individualized strategies back to their organizations, allowing them to face stressful conversations and bold actions with a new sense of confidence and competence.
Perfecting Persuasive Communication Strategies
As individuals build the skills to speak up in interpersonal situations at work when necessary, the next step is to ensure effective, persuasive communication to broader audiences. In this customized, interactive workshop, University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Jim Detert, the leading expert on workplace courage and speaking up, uses research-backed tools and techniques for creating change through how problems and solutions are presented or “sold.” Detert provides attendees with opportunities to identify important issues, formulate plans for how to address these issues, and employ strategies and tools to skillfully persuade senior leaders to address them. Through hands-on learning and simulations, participants will be able to more confidently bring concerns to senior decision makers and apply persuasive communication skills to increase the likelihood of action.