6 Habits of A Gutsy Workplace

What is “gutsy workplace?” How do you know if you are one? And what are some ways to create one?


Other words for gutsy are bold, daring, courageous, plucky, spirited, adventurous, audacious, fearless, intrepid. You get the picture. Yet we usually associate this quality with a person as opposed to a whole workplace. While we can imagine behaviors and attitudes that might show a person to be gutsy, what does it look like for that audaciousness to be permeating a workplace culture?

A gutsy workplace is one where courage is actually valued and where the norms of getting work done are supportive of daring thinking. It’s a place where creativity and innovation aren’t just buzz words that you toss around, but are typical modes of problem-solving and strategizing.

A gutsy workplace is one where the accepted practices of doing business are constantly being questioned. Just because most competitors are doing a certain thing in a certain way does not mean we must. In fact, the idea that “everyone is doing it this way” drives a gutsy workplace to deliberately move in a different direction.

A gutsy workplace is one where people feel safe being different. They feel safe being themselves. People are seen as doing their best not based on not how effectively they conform to generic performance standards, but based on how authentic and unique they allow themselves to be. Imagine having your performance evaluated based on how frequently you’re willing to try something whacky.


As we ponder this gutsy workplace notion, it probably sounds like gutsiness would be really difficult to measure and verify. How can we know when someone is being their unique, quirky best? How can we judge when it’s really OK to challenge a commonly accepted business standard? How can we measure the effect of an audacious action vs what would have happened by taking a safer route?

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If we suspect we can’t neatly measure something, we start to disbelieve it’s worth pursuing to begin with. But we can certainly perceive gutsiness if we can’t precisely measure it. We can observe it in the pattern of behaviors, words, and gestures over time. We can feel it under the surface when we believe it’s OK for us to speak up and be heard. We detect it when we witness moments of spontaneous collaboration.

Gutsiness is kind of like a duck. We know the quack when we hear it.

6 Habits You Can Adopt

If you like the idea of a gutsy workplace and want to work on creating that kind of environment, here are just a few things you can do:

  1. Commit to authenticity by talking about it. There are lots of specific things you can do that all go to encourage authenticity, but you’ve got to start by saying out loud that it matters to you. And keep saying it. Get over the fact that you feel silly saying so. Be authentic about placing a premium on authenticity!
  2. Build risk-taking into your planning. If you set goals and targets that are intended to be iron-clad, then from the moment you do any planning you’ve set yourself up for shutting down gutsiness. If targets are like a religion then there’s no room for taking advantage of unexpected opportunity–including new ideas. Yes, within your planning certain elements are less negotiable, but in many cases there’s room for a range of outcomes. Acknowledge that where you can explicitly, envision some different scenarios, and people feel more free take risks.
  3. Break the job description mold. Make sure that everyone has an invitation to identify a project that goes beyond what is asked of them in their “official” job description. Everyone (nearly) has some interests beyond their role, and everyone offers talents and abilities beyond what’s expected of them through their core tasks. Let them pursue broader interests and tap into those talents.
  4. Reverse new staff orientation. When people join the organization we want to teach them all about our systems, our policies, our way of working. But what about what the new team member has to teach us, especially before they’ve settled into the daily flow. Leverage that “new hire honeymoon” by learning from their fresh perspective while it is still fresh.
  5. Storytelling circles. Regularly schedule time for people to organize into small groups of three or four to exchange stories. These can be stories with a theme of risk-taking, creativity, or any other topic you choose. In these story circles there’s no agenda, no follow-up, no reporting back. It’s just listening and sharing experiences, pure and simple. Very powerful.
  6. Role model audacious ideas from leaders. If you’re in a position of management authority, well, it falls to you to walk the talk. Be willing to put big, crazy ideas out there, even if you sometimes fail. All this talk of gutsiness has be put into practice by those who are deemed to be in positions of power. If you can’t remember the last time you put out an audacious idea, then you’re way overdue.

Gutsy workplaces are alive. Thriving. Energized. Fun. None of these things contradict the seriousness of the work you do or the commitments you have to keep. It’s just a matter of how you choose go about doing what it is you do.