Published: June 1, 2015 By

ABSTRACT. As a result of recent preventable corporate failures (e.g., Enron, WorldCom, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae), there is a growing desire to understand what might motivate employees to courageously detect and deflect organizational problems before they harm the entire organization. Based on 94 interviews we conducted with a wide variety of employees who witnessed or undertook courageous actions, we inductively developed a model using employees' accounts of the unfolding sequence of events. We learned that employees report engaging in courageous workplace actions when they feel responsible for dealing with a challenging situation such as a workplace error, an abuse of power, an ambiguous situation, or someone in need. We interpreted the stories of courage as suggesting that workplace courage may be a two-stage process, where actors first determine their level of personal responsibility to respond to the challenging situation and then determine the potential social costs of acting. Our model of the courageous workplace action appears to challenge the conventional wisdom of courage as being attributed to a person’s disposition, may enrich theories of intrinsic motivation, and may help clarify the role of cognition in courageous action. Our findings may also help to resolve some of the contradictory evidence regarding the antecedents of the many organizational constructs related to courage including whistle-blowing, voice, speaking up, taking charge, positive deviance, and organizational dissent.