Leadership always requires some level of risk taking. Risks are necessary to make changes happen and there will always be both personal risk, risk to followers as well as to the organization or group involved. The areas where risks are the most important to a leader are what I’ll outline below.
Comfort zones are really the perfect opposite or risks. They are the decisions and ways of doing things that have the least risks, the least unknowns and are easy for you to do. They do NOT have any risk. These are bad for leaders and a leader should never let these comfort zones dominate them. Having a willingness to take on risks means also to have a willingness to step outside your comfort zone . Anyone who is too afraid to step outside their comfort zone is also too afraid to take the risks that are often needed as a leader. This is an important point as at least in this aspect, leadership is something to easily test for and I think this is often missed when employers or groups look for leaders. If an individual is give up comforts and ease to move towards and tackle the next challenge, they surely show great signs of leadership.
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Comfort zones are everything from an individual’s daily routine, to their lifestyle, to their work environment and habits or roles in their life and job. All of these things that are repetitive and lasting become comfortable and only the new things in life really make things change over time.
Challenge is the next component when examining how to take risks. Challenge is really the part of any risk that keeps us from it. It is what makes it difficult and what steers most people away from it. However, challenge is the whole point of taking risks. It’s the challenge itself that you learn from, develop skills from and improve not only yourself as a leader but all the people you lead through the challenge as well. There isn’t any point to making things a challenge for no good reason so it’s about taking on the right challenges and calculating risks to a point that justifies them when compared to the challenge that is faced to accomplish them. If there are ways to reduce the risk, avoid the risk or make the challenge less with the same outcome, then that is absolutely the path to lead people down. However, sometimes the willingness to take a risk even when the challenge is great, is exactly what a leader needs to do to show courage and ability to get through a difficult situation.
These decisions by a leader as to when to take a challenge on or not and accept the risks is a cue that followers will carefully assess themselves. The emotions of the decision maker, the reasoning behind it and the considerations they take involving others are what followers are learning from when facing any challenge. A great leader makes these decisions transparent and does it with a moral basis, emotional attachment and passion to drive past the problem.
Taking risks is done with some purpose in mind as well. There isn’t any point in taking risks that don’t pay off. There are however, hundreds of things that require risks in order to make them happen. Innovation is a big one of those. Innovation is when you look for new ways of doing things, building things or perhaps new ideas being realized as a product. This requires breaking new ground that no one has done before and so there are always risks involved. People and companies who are unwilling to take risks will become stagnant with no ability to innovate or change. In the forever changing world we live in today, innovation is required to lead people well. It enables change and opens opportunities that were impossible to see before the change occurred.
Innovation is not the job only of the leader. For innovation to happen at all levels and from followers as well, a leader must look to steer what is needed for a change or direction, but should never limit how to come about doing that. The adversity that exists in a team is far greater than any leader will ever have and so the possibilities and ideas generated from the whole group are always more than the leader could generate on their own. For this reason, it is especially important for a leader to not only allow innovation at all levels, but encourage and promote it as well. This will bring forth more ideas, more possibilities and enable more people amongst the followers to start having practice and interest in the decisions, risks and change as well. That personal interest that a leader generates among any followers is key to enabling a lasting improvement system or continuous change system.
Confidence is huge for a leader to not only have but also to demonstrate. Building up confidence to make difficult decisions requires some history or track record of decision making as well. A great leader looks at all the decisions they have made and either learns from the ones that were mistakes or reinforces the factors that contributed to the good ones. This gives them confidence that they are making the best decision they can at the time. This fact alone that it is about the best decision possible at that time is what enables that confidence to be utilized. It is not that the decision has to turn out to be the best in the end. Often, more information or progress through a challenge, will reveal a different decision to be best and it’s not until this point that that can really be evaluated.
Many people fear making that initial decision with the fear that it may be wrong so they need to evaluate and attempt to consider all possible options without ever making a decision. There is always more information available and it is easy to get stuck in information paralysis where you do nothing and just continually analyze the possibilities. A leader needs to have confidence that an early decision can progress things faster, even if that decision is wrong or needs to be changed later on. The risks can still be minimized by having option, alternate paths and a reasonable level of consideration, but the decision does need to be made and a leader must be confident in it to lead others toward that path as well. Others will likely have their own doubts about an early decision and many would prefer to spend more time before deciding on a route to follow. A leader must show their confidence in an obvious way to convince these people who are still waffling about the decision that it is OK to proceed with it now. This is the kind of confidence necessary.
Confidence has it’s drawbacks as well so needs to be shown carefully. A leader definitely should not show confidence that comes across as arrogance. Be confident in the ability to get through problems, to make the change happen and in your ability to lead. Do not show the confidence that you are right about the decisions or that you will not fail. Failure is just a quick way to learn and so a leader should be quick to change when a decision is wrong, be open about it and abmit the mistake and then turn around and again be confident that you can immediately use that mistake to move forward in a better direction and that you will in fact still achieve the results desired. Great confidence in the process, your followers and your ability to change quickly are what will enable you to take on risks willingly and be a strong leader.
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