Boldness is not necessarily a trait that can be learned. People are wired in different ways, with some more prone to fear or hesitation and others more prone to acting with less concern about consequences for one’s well-being. Boldness can be mistaken for stupidity, or it can manifest itself in supremely meritorious actions, such as those that can result in one being recognized for distinction, as in military battle. It is the extremely rare individual who is entirely without fear; most of us exhibit it either internally or externally, or both depending upon the circumstances.
A commonly accepted definition of “boldness” is to act without fear. That is easy when one is confident in one’s ability to execute a given task; it is less easy when the task in question involves consequences for failure that are permanent, such as death or serious injury. In a business context, boldness can mean making risky decisions the consequences of which, at worse, could mean losing one’s job or placing one’s organization in fiscal jeopardy. Boldness in baseball could mean a base runner’s decision to attempt to steal second base; boldness in auto racing could mean a driver’s decision to attempt a maneuver that could result in a collision with another driver or with a wall. Boldness in a surgical procedure could mean the death or permanent disabling of a patient; boldness in cooking could mean using a combination of seasonings that may not work well together. It is all a matter of context.
Learning to act boldly can be a matter of mental conditioning, and it could involve the use of anti-anxiety medications and therapy, which can help regulate serotonin and signaling among nerves and the brain. Again, overcoming fear of public speaking or of failing in an academic or professional environment is vastly different from considerations of personal well-being when one’s friends lie bleeding on a battlefield and their rescue hinges on one’s willingness to risk one’s own life to help them. When learning to act boldly, then, think in terms of the environment in which one operates and the consequences of failure should success prove elusive.
Therapists working with patients suffering from anxiety, especially social anxiety, help those patients by conditioning them to function without fear when immersed in the kind of environment that triggers panic attacks. That conditioning offers centers on developing a better appreciation of scale of consequences for failure. After all, as noted, the consequences of failing to address a gathering due to fear of public speaking may be professionally and personally painful, but the individual will live to see the next day. Failure to steal second base will result in an out for one’s team, and maybe even being benched by a vengeful coach, but this is neither life nor death. Fear of crowds is resolved by gradually introducing individuals into larger and larger gatherings. The business environment resolves itself, sometimes, in how one’s superiors respond to bold decisions that may not work out well or in the mass selling off of the company’s stock by panicked stockholders.
The key to having boldness in oneself is to recognize that, in most contexts, the consequences of failure are extremely limited—and the rewards for success especially gratifying. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes.