If you’re keen to display the qualities of true leadership, risk-taking must become part of your executive weaponry. Leaders must be disrupters of the status quo, which often requires them to take risks. Calculated risk-taking helps ‘creative edge’ organisations to thrive; and it earns an enviable reputation for individuals who deliver the positive results. But risk-taking requires courage and an awareness of the following advice…
1. Be aware of the pros and cons of risk taking.
Risk taking means moving from a situation of some security to another less secure position. But, to advance, there’ll be times when you must place yourself, even your organisation, at risk. Courage is a basic requirement for risk taking, sometimes at great professional and personal cost. The alternative – choosing not to show leadership – will no doubt result in fewer risks and greater security, but it will also mean the loss of opportunity to bring about needed improvement in your organisation.
2. Confront fear first – then bite the bullet.
Fear is a demotivating factor in any situation. People don’t do things because of fear – fear of the consequences of doing them (and vice versa). People who do not learn to confront their fears may go through life in the company of embarrassment, failure, rejection, disapproval, uncertainty, and myriad other doubts. Confronting fear is a precursor to taking risks. So, if you find yourself hesitating about taking a risk, ask: ‘What am I really scared of?’ Isolate that fear and face up to it; by weighing the disadvantages – and the advantages – you can decide whether the risk, the calculated risk, is worth taking.
3. Ensure the risk is justified.
Risk taking can be something of a gamble and one of the rules of gambling is never to risk more than you can afford to lose. Size up the odds, the rewards, and the risks. Don’t risk a lot for a little, particularly useful advice when you’re sticking your neck out only to take revenge, save face, or on a matter of principle.
4. Forget the rules.
The thing about risk taking is that there are no rules. In fact, risk taking often involves breaking or stretching any existing rules to breaking point. Risk taking is all about change. And to bring about change, you can best assess the risks by becoming an observer of human and organisational behaviour. If you understand the way your superiors, peers, or subordinates work and think, you can venture a guess as to how they will react to any breathtaking initiative you undertake or propose.
5. Determine in advance just how far you can go.
Risk taking often involves threatening certain existing values, resources, and vested interests. Many people dislike change when it upsets their way of thinking, work style, or life pattern. So it’s important to gauge at the start just how far you can push these boundaries. History is punctuated with stories of risk-takers who stepped where angels feared to tread. The difficulty for risk-takers, and for you, however, is to know when not to step over the line.
6. Know your limitations.
A long-shot is one thing; a no-win situation is quite another. So, if you figure you’ll be outclassed, outfoxed, outranked, underresourced, or undermined, then don’t be rash. Step back and rethink your strategy.
7. Prepare a contingency plan – just in case.
Suppose your risk doesn’t pay off – how can you save face, cut your losses, or cash in your chips? Be prepared, by having in place a range of alternatives and contingencies that will allow you to reach a compromise by negotiating a mutually agreeable outcome.
8. Maximise the effect.
Once you’ve decided to take the risk, use whatever techniques are necessary to instil confidence in those around you and to keep your momentum going. It’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it – so be dramatic, stylish, and enthusiastic. The ‘as if’ philosophy is appropriate here; that is, if you want to succeed, begin by acting ‘as if’ you have.
9. Gain and remain in control.
You’re taking the risk, so try to control as many variables as possible. Use power and influence – your own and your boss’s – and, by your actions, earn the respect and support of other key players.
10. Learn to live to fight another day.
Fights are rarely won in the first round; the winner is the one still there at the end. So, unless it’s a winner-take-all situation, don’t be discouraged if your venture doesn’t come off. The important thing is where you stand over the long haul. Always remember the turtle – it gets nowhere if it doesn’t stick its neck out!