Mandy Nicholson

The Creative Genius Corner

Lessons, musings and advice from the author of ‘The Life I Won’

What does it take to be successful in business?

For me one of the main (but not the only) ingredients is courage, because I believe this skill is what it takes to grow a business of any kind.

What is courage?

A senior manager risks losing her company thousands and losing her job to fight a bully that everyone knows about but is afraid to deal with. A young, inexperienced manager asks her boss to invest twenty thousand pounds in labour costs in order for her to turn a failing business around. A middle-aged mum loses everything, ends up bankrupt, homeless, a single parent and yet keeps going. 

All of the above was actually me, I was that soldier, and those examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Each example had a different outcome. In the first one the bully was removed at a cost and I eventually lost my job via a different route. In the second one I turned the business around big time and made the company hundreds of thousands. In the third one I was able to bounce back from rock bottom, you can read that story in my book ‘The Life I Won’. 

We all have stories of courage in our lives that will inspire others, but the message is, I am still here, moving forward and building my business, and so are you. Courage is keeping going.

The U.S. senator and onetime prisoner of war John McCain has defined courage as a brief, singular occurrence: “that rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honour, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve.”

In business, courageous action is really a special kind of calculated risk taking. People who become good leaders have a greater than average willingness to make bold moves, but they strengthen their chances of success through careful deliberation and preparation. Business courage is not so much a visionary leader’s inborn characteristic as a skill acquired through decision-making processes that improve with practice. In other words, most great business leaders teach themselves to make difficult decisions. They learn to do this well over a period of time, often decades.

We all start with that first decision, that first experience of dipping our toe in the water of risk. Courage is a learned behaviour. It is strength in the face of fear or grief. It is the ability to do something that frightens you.

So how do you learn to be courageous in business?

The best place to start is by asking questions. 

What does success look like in this situation?
Is it obtainable?
Does it advance my company, team, principles and values?

This gives you your start point for setting bold goals. Goals that stretch you and sit outside of your comfort zone. When I faced dealing with a bully that the entire senior team knew about but were not prepared to deal with, I had to be clear on the outcomes and benefits versus the risks. I knew that one of the risks was cost and my job security, but this bully was impacting on two senior, well respected and excellent management team members who would be a longer-term asset to that particular company than me. The ends justified the means. In this situation success looked like these two women performing at their best once the bully was removed and me moving on to a new chapter. You see, not every difficult situation has a clean and happy ending.

Courage is accepting that and doing it anyway.

Focus on your primary goal achievement and take bold action. In the other example where I convinced my boss to give me an additional budget for labour costs, my store was trading up by almost 400% within a year and continuing to grow. I knew it was a risky but sound investment because I knew I could do it. If you know that you have it in you, then you absolutely must take calculated risks supported with clear goals and actions.

The women who join my program and invest in themselves are taking a risk, but not one of them will leave after twelve months without a sound business and the knowledge they need. They may not have reached all of their financial goals, but they know how to. Sometimes you must feel the fear and do it anyway.

Determining the importance of your goal.

Your next step in learning the skill of courage is to determine the answer to these questions:

Just how important is it that you achieve your goals?
If you don’t do something about the current situation will your business suffer?
Will your business be negatively impacted?
Will you be able to look yourself in the eye?
Does the situation call for immediate, bold action or something less risky?

Courage in business means making tough decisions. The calculation needed to take action not only needs to be beneficial, relevant and bold, but it must be aligned with your core values. If it doesn’t ‘feel’ good for you and it will hurt your business and your people unnecessarily and there is another way, then don’t do it. However, if it is uncomfortable but necessary to the business survival it is time to pull up those big girl pants and take action.

Weighing up the risks and benefits.

There are always trade-offs. 

Who is the winner here? 
Who will lose? 
Will the action that you take have a negative impact on your reputation or good name? 
Will it impact your business in the long term or come back and bite you in the bum?!

Assessing the risks and benefits in any given situation allows you to take better quality action with a clear strategy. Failing to view the problem or situation from this angle can have an overall poor outcome.

Let me use an example here of a client who is in contract with you for a sum of two thousand pounds for your services over six months. They change their mind having only paid you five hundred pounds. You know that you have the legal right to demand the remaining balance from them, this is not your fault but theirs. 

What happens if you take the legal route? 
You may be able to enforce payment but how does it sit with your values?
What about the human on the other end and your reputation? 
What do you want to be known for? Fair treatment and empathy or weakness and being a pushover? 

There is no right or wrong, only what feels right for you in terms of the business survival and your own values. Taking the tough approach once, may well set a precedent for others to know that you are not a pushover or it may mean that people won’t want to work with you. Only you can decide what to do and how to manage this particular situation.

The leader with courage does what is right based on all of these concerns having weighed up the risks and benefits.


Although real emergencies that require immediate and decisive action do occur, they don’t happen that often and you will usually have time.

It is important to use the time you have to muster up the support, information or even evidence in order for you to step boldly into the action required.

When I hit rock bottom in 2009 there was nowhere left to fall. The worst had happened. My main priority was to find ‘enough’ to live on and take action to move upwards from there. The situation is what it is, and the courage sometimes comes from deciding that you are not going to stay where you are. There are time sensitive actions like make sure you earn enough to live on and then bigger goals such as rebuilding and creating wealth.

It is different for everyone in every situation.

Business success looks and feels different for everyone. What I see as success may be completely different to what you see.

For some success is not £10K months or £Millions in the bank, it is happiness, or finding the perfect life partner. For others it is just earning enough or helping more people.

Whatever success looks like for you, it will still take a level of courage. Courage is a key ingredient to your future and vital to your present. 

You can start to develop this skill today by setting yourself a goal that sits outside of your comfort zone. Ask yourself this:

What one single BIG thing would you love to do or have that you have not taken any action on yet?
Why not?
What three things can you do today that push you outside of your comfort zone that will take you one step closer to what it is that you want?

Off you go!!!!

Let me know how you get on with this and don’t forget to pick up my book if you want to read about how, you can lose everything and still see it as a gift.

Love & Colour

Mandy x

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