Friday, January 24, 2014

Risk vs Recklessness

I am often told that an attribute of my type of leadership personality is my willingness to take risks. Some say that with a negative tone :-) while others communicate it as a strong value...

But I’ve also seen people that applaud their own ability to take “risks” and categorize their leadership actions under this high adrenaline personality trait. It’s trendy... all the cool kids are doing it... Unfortunately, too many are not actually engaged in risk, but are wielding the idea of risk like a 2 year old with a butcher knife. 

Allow me to clarify...

Crazy or self-focused ideas and actions should not necessarily be defined as risk as much as they are “risky”. Sure, risk is defined as peril or a possibility of loss or injury, but if you’ve ever dusted off that RISK board game from the family closet then you know that there is a calculation that precedes risks taken in good leadership. I have come to find over the years that true leadership risk is not blind or ignorant of what is at stake but, rather, feels the full weight of the chances involved, what could be lost, what could break, and still sees the opportunity as one worth taking. If you’ve ever found yourself at a blackjack table in Vegas, you know that it is MUCH easier to gamble with someone else’s money or even your own winnings... what hurts is when you know you could lose something crucial. When it’s your money, you might pause a little more before telling the dealer, “Hit me.” See, leadership is invested... it bothers to know what the downside could be and, if the leader has been truly invested, has skin in the game. Leadership risk feels the weight of potential loss and factors that in to the big picture. It sees the potential but carries the weight of the loss.

You see the things that you helped build that could be lost.

You know the names of those that could be affected.

You know the difficult road that faces you if you fail.

You are prepared to look others in the eye and carry them out of the potential fallout.

Then, if the scenario is worth it, you take that risk...

I worked with an individual once that would choose options that were often risky... they would see something cool that someone else had or had done and then decide his team needed to do the same... they would blow through resources based on the latest buzz or thought in their head... they would move people around like pawns and work outside of the team. At one point, they spent through almost an entire budget for a few events that simply highlighted their role. The mentality of this person was that they were a risk taker... and that it was one of the things that made them a good leader - that they were willing to follow their vision regardless of the cost and that any loss paled in comparison to the personal victory they could gain. But, they never were personally affected by the fallout of their short-sighted choices. Actions that are taken in this manner are not good leadership risk... they are recklessness... only when you feel the weight of what you would lose, only when you think of the whole, only when you have skin in the game, only then does your ability to take risks become a positive element of your leadership.

Otherwise, you’re simply gambling with someone else’s money.

I believe that a good leader does indeed take risks... and guess what? They will fail many times... But that leader will be able to lead through failures because their team knows that they never took those risks lightly nor absolved themselves from the ramifications of those decisions.

Don’t be afraid to risk! That’s how some of the most amazing things come to fruition - but know the difference between leadership risk... and recklessness...

...“Hit me.”