How Leaders Take Risks

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A year ago on Forbes.com, John Baldoni wrote a fascinating article on the resurgence of the Ford motor company and how they handled risks. He outlined the difficulties and challenges the Ford Motor Company had faced along with the other big three automotive companies only seven years ago. And he outlined how they had come out of those dark days more profitable than ever, and continuing to own the best-selling truck in North America for 30 straight years. What was fascinating was the way he linked Ford’s unmatched success to its leadership being willing to take calculated risks.How Leaders Take Risks

Fords CEO was quoted as saying “It’s all about maintaining leadership. We don’t take risks we can’t deliver on… You have to take chances if you want to stay the leader.” And Ford’s Executive Chairman said much the same. “We couldn’t be happier about our recent success [with F-Series], but we cannot afford to be complacent for one second.” Words for leaders to live by.

Taking risks, thinking outside the status quo – that is what real leaders do. They realize that without risk there is no great success. They realize that complacency is the real enemy. Jim Collins has well said that the greatest enemy of being great at something is being good at something! As we look around, the careers of great leaders are marked by a willingness to take risk, and an unwillingness to settle for last week’s successes. Can the same be said of us?

The role of a leader is to push their teams to excellence – So the question in front of us seems to be how do we fight complacency? Consider these three approaches:

  1. Challenge people’s comfort levels

One of the main reasons people don’t think outside the status quo and remain risk adverse has to do with comfort levels and a risk averse culture. In a previous job, as part of my mandate I was asked to modernize the underlying technology of the organization. And as I evaluated and bench-marked the current state, I realized that over the years the organization had made technology decisions based solely on what they were comfortable with, and because of that, found themselves in difficulty because of the age of their technology. It makes perfect sense, they were comfortable and did not want to challenge that feeling. Do you want to fight complacency and take a leadership role – challenge people’s comfort levels!

  1. Move from checking boxes to adding new ones

When I was in university, a friend of mine often used an acronym composed of three letters – TBD. Those three letters stood for “things to be done.” My clearest memory of that friend was his constant use of lists. He had a list for things to do on the weekend. He had a list for things to do when he went home to visit his parents. He had a list of things to do at the University. And as he addressed each of the items on his list he put a large checkmark beside it. Don’t get me wrong, being organized is a good thing. But in the workplace we sometimes fall into the complacent activity of checking off the boxes we’ve used for so long to measure success. My suggestion is to move from checking those same often used boxes, and adding new ones, that when checked, will mark a move from good to great.

  1. Invest in the innovators

Finally, great leaders do more than just fight the danger of complacency, but rather invest in those in their organization who choose to innovate, and think outside the status quo. Let’s be leaders who not only fight complacency and the way things have always been done, but invest in those on our teams who choose to innovate.

Are we leaders who choose to take risks or are we risk averse? The proof will be when good is replaced by great!

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After 20 years of progressive leadership within the Canadian Public Service, as an executive and thought leader, Bruce has turned his attention to full time writing, speaking, training and business advisory services. Focusing his work on his long term passion for leadership development, has led to an ongoing focus on exploring current leadership topics through his leadership blog TheModernLeader.ca, and his newly released book - Leadership Hack: Leading the Millennial Tribe. Bruce holds two masters degrees, along with a professional designation in project management. Bruce calls Ottawa, Ontario Canada home, where he shares his life with his wife Susan, and his two university aged daughters.

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