Aug 12, 2013 - Leadership    No Comments

Leaders Take Risks

Leaders Take Risks

You can’t play it safe and be a leader. I often would prefer to lead from my couch, but that’s hardly leading, and there’s a risk to inertia and doing nothing just as there is from taking action. If you’re going to be a leader, you’re going to do things with the risk of failure, and for even the greatest leaders, you have the potential for spectacular, fall-in-the-pigsty-smell-for-a-week kinds of screw-ups. Most of the best leaders have had these kinds of odoriferous falls more than once.

Some people are naturally more comfortable tackling risks than others, but it is a skill that can be learned. I find it best to have a plan in place for handling risks rather than either the ‘pell-mell run around and do what feels right whenever it occurs to me’ approach or the ‘I’ll sit at home until risk finds’ me scenario.

Time to exercise your risk muscles.

To be more comfortable with risk, you have to be comfortable with fear. If you’re not taking chances, there’s something about the outcome that scares you. The first step away from inertia is to identify–and face–that fear.

Some fears are internal: I won’t be liked, I might fail, I might succeed. Some are tangible: I might lose a lot of money, something could break, someone might die.

Leaders can be balanced in tackling risk rather than be totally reckless. I tend to consider two attributes of the choice in front of me: What is the chance of things going south, and what is the potential gain or loss? If I have to run outside, for example, and I’m only going to be gone a second, what’s the chance that my dog will run outside into the street and get hurt? Pretty darn low; he’s not a runner and hasn’t tried to make a break for it before, and I’ll only be gone a second. But the potential loss? Losing the ‘playing in traffic’ game for good. Small risk, huge potential downside, no real upside…close the damn door.

I’ll take more risk when I’m the only one who will have to deal with the consequence, especially if that result is emotional; my embarrassment doesn’t bother me much if no one else gets hurt. Much harder to take a chance when there’s someone else in the equation.

But if you’re not taking enough risks–and if you’re never failing you’re not taking enough risks–you’re not learning. You don’t need to dwell on your failures. Rather, learn from them, discuss them with your staff, learn what to do differently the next time around. By not taking risks, you’re staying in the present situation, and your competitors and enemies most certainly are not. You will fall behind.

Believe in yourself, who you are and what you know, and understand that you won’t get them all right. Waiting for the time and circumstance to be absolutely perfect is as wasteful and thinking change will happen by itself without your input, and it’ll work out exactly like you hoped. You made the decision to lead, right? Now decide what to do next.

Two steps to successful risk-taking leadership: Take smart and balanced risks and learn from those that don’t work according to plan. The second step is harder: Encourage those on your team to take risks and help them learn when they make mistakes. You’ve got to train up future risk-takers, too. A zero-defect policy with your people means a zero-growth policy.

You can teach your team learns to handle risk. You know the areas where the damage caused by faulty risk-taking would be minimal…start them there. Choose where you’re comfortable and show them where they can make the decisions. Start small and build. Let them experiment with new and better ways to accomplish goals. And then debrief. What worked, what didn’t, what might work with adjustments? Get as many people involved in these debriefs as you can so that everyone learns. Don’t hash it to death. People have to get back to work and not sit in meetings all day. Identify, discuss, implement.

Simple formula for your team: Make a mistake and we’ve all got your back. Repeat that mistake in exactly the same way, you face the consequences.

So take risks when you lead. Learn from the risks you take, both good and bad. Own the results. Fix those that went wrong, and put safeguards in place so that the errors are unlikely to be repeated. Talk with you people so you all learn without having to make the same mistakes.

Sometimes you’ll end up with egg on your face, but sometimes you’ll find the brilliant answer to an elusive problem.


Jul 3, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

July 4, 1940

I love this Independence Day message from Eleanor Roosevelt. Clearly a woman ahead of her time…enjoy and have a lovely 4th of July.

HYDE PARK, July 3—Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and this year it seems to me that this particular date should have a very deep meaning for all of us.

Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence and on that Declaration our Constitution was based. We fought as a young nation for the ideas that were expressed by the men who wrote this document. Though sometimes it seems as though, during the intervening years, we had forgotten all that document implies, the events of the last few months have made many of us think over carefully what are the things which really matter to us as individuals in the United States of America.
We will have to be very sure what we want for ourselves and our fellow citizens in order really to organize our strength and live or die for the things in which we believe.

I personally want to continue to live in a country where I can think as I please, go to any church I please, or to none if that is my desire; say what I please, and within the limits of any free society, do what I please.

Long ago we decided here that if we held views opposing those of other people, it was against the interests of our country to try to persuade those others by force to agree with us. We could go on talking about our own ideas in the hope of eventually winning a majority, and it seems to me that this is the essence of democracy.

I am willing to be asked to sacrifice time and money for the good of the country as a whole. I am willing to be asked to share what I am able to earn with other less fortunate people, and I am willing to consider any curtailment of personal liberty which I can be persuaded is for the good of the majority, but I want to be able to discuss it.

I want the right to work, and I want that opportunity to be extended to all my fellow citizens. I want them to have an equal opportunity for educational development, for health and for recreation, which is all part of the building of a human being capable of coping with the modern world.

I want to have within my own hands the choice of my leaders, and if the majority opinion is against me at any time, I want the right to differ, while recognizing the necessity of cooperation on my part in order to prove fairly whether the majority opinion is right or not.

On this Fourth of July morning I hope each and every one of us will dedicate ourselves to the service of our country and the service of our fellow citizens, never forgetting that we hope through our example to strengthen the ultimate brotherhood of man throughout the world.


May 24, 2013 - Leadership    No Comments

We’re all small unit leaders

“Leadership, especially small unit leadership, is not something a select few are born with—we can all do this. Whether it’s something at work, whether it’s your church group, whether it’s how you volunteer, or how you raise your kids, we’re all small unit leaders at some point.” notes Julie Dye, PhD, author of Backbone: History, Traditions, and Leadership Lessons of Marine Corps NCOs.

For more on translating the skills of small unit leaders to everyday life and work, watch this exclusive video from Open Road Media.