As Herodotus, a noted Greek Historian once said, “It is better by noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen.” It is funny how a long-dead historian from a millennia and a half ago can be so on point.
So if this is true why do we as leaders not take more risks? Why do we not stretch our wings and live on the edge a bit more? While many leadership authors freely acknowledge the need to take bold risks why do we seem to always hunker down? Perhaps it is as Herodotus wisely said, we are “being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen.”
So what do we gain by not taking risks?
- Failing slowly rather than getting on with it.
- Creating a time swamp of over thinking, second and even third guessing.
- Pervading anxiety and needless worry.
- Weak-hearted followers who mimic their leader’s dilly dallying.
So what do we gain by taking appropriate risks?
- Failing fast. This gives us an opportunity for a quick do-over rather than a nasty reconstruction of what happened and who did what wrong.
- Saving time through right analysis. Putting off taking action leads to pervading anxiety and needless worry.
- Encompassing harmony as a result of getting things done.
- Courageous-followers who are set to take the hill.
George Lucas famously said, “Part of the issue of achievement is to be able to set realistic goals, but that’s one of the hardest things to do because you don’t always know exactly where you’re going, and you shouldn’t.”
As a leader we need to set realistic goals that are challenging but yet are achievable. No one likes to routinely fail. Setting a series of unrealistic goals that lead to a series of failures can be disheartening to a leader, as well as their team. Thus, setting unrealistic goals that are not achievable easily frustrates people. Not knowing what is possible or achievable adds another level of complexity to setting realistic goals. So how do we figure out what is a realistic goal and what is not realistic?
Here are five approaches:
- Use your gut. If the goal sounds unrealistic it probably is.
- Talk the goal over with your peers to see if they think your thinking is straight.
- Look at how your team has performed in the past. Have they stepped up when challenged or shrunk back?
- Socialize the goal with your team. How do they feel about the goal? Do they feel it is achievable or outlandish?
- Consider setting incremental goals that are more achievable.
Famed author Earl Nightingale once said, “A great attitude does much more than turn on the lights in our worlds; it seems to magically connect us to all sorts of serendipitous opportunities that were somehow absent before the change.”
Earl Nightingale talks about the ‘magic’ of serendipity. In some circles serendipity has been also been called a ‘happy accident’. So why do some people seem to accidentally have more ‘magic’ encounters with serendipity than you or I?
I would portend that it has nothing to do with accidents but with living our life’s at their boundaries or beyond. Leaders in particular need to live their lives at their bounds or beyond. Why? Pushing the boundaries is where the ‘magic’ of serendipity often happens. It is when we have tried everything possible and nothing seems to work. It is when we desperately need something to happen – Even if it seems implausible or even laughable.
So how do we get into this serendipity-zone where the ‘magic’ can happen? Here are 7 ideas:
- Actively create quiet space. Serendipity has little chance of happening when we are working at a frantic supersonic pace. Stop trying to do everything. Do less but do it better. What can you stop doing today?
- Do things outside of your normal. Too many people hang out with people just like themselves. It is nice. It is comfortable. Geeks tend to hang out with other geeks. Artsys tend to hang out with other artsys. Why not intentionally mix it up?
- Take a diversion. When you are stuck set aside a problem. Stop wasting your energy. Divert to something else and come back to the problem later for a fresh look. What diversion can you take now?
- Keep learning. Solutions to perplexing problems often emerge from seemingly unrelated disciplines. What can you Google that interests you?
- Merely expressing of a problem to another person helps to clearly define the edges of the problem. Vague-problems tend to create vague-solutions. Well-defined problems tend to create well-defined solutions. Who can you reach out to today?
- Try a novel approach. If something does not work, drop back, reevaluate the situation and try a novel approach. What have you got to lose?
- Fail fast. Fearing failure we often over analyze a problem, and fail anyway. Why not attempt several solutions in parallel?
Finally here is an interesting piece on happy accidents that is worth looking at. The Power of Serendipity http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-power-of-serendipity/
Fredrick the Great once said “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace” or “Audacity, audacity, always audacity.” Many leaders today are simply too predictable. They lack audacity. To their detriment leaders who are timid and unnecessarily fearful lack the ability to be audacious. Unfortunately, it is not in their DNA. Their overwhelming desire to not ever, ever make a single mistake crushes them before they even inch toward the pathway to being audacious.
So what does audacity really mean? What defines an audacious leader? One view of an audacious leader is to having “chutzpah” or being fearlessness. Another definition is “the willingness to take bold risks.” However, these simplistic definitions leave much to be desired. For instance, what are “bold risks”? In reality audacity, or taking “bold risks”, means different things to different leaders. For one leader honestly soliciting their team for direct feedback might be considered audacious. For another leader it could be making a decision to exit a profitable multi-million dollar business because it does not align with the leader’s values. You see audacity is all from the perspective of an individual leader. Or said another way, one leader’s audacity might be considered another leader’s timidity. As such each leader must weigh out what taking “bold risks” is to them personally. This is simply not a one “bold risk” fits all leaders.
So in digging a little deeper what is the difference between leading with audacity versus stupidity? True audacity has the following five hallmarks:
- Audacity while bold understands the consequences if things do not work out.
- Audacity while courageous carefully weighs the risks involved.
- Audacity while risky does not act in an unduly perilous manner.
- Audacity while extreme is not extremist.
- Audacity seeks counsel from others and does not wing it alone.
Looking at this from a bigger perspective a leader who lacks the ability to act audaciously or take “bold risks”, while perhaps somewhat successful in the short-term, in the long-term this leader has really limited what they could become by not understanding what is possible. What “bold risk” are you considering today? Step out. Take it. Carpe Diem! Seize the day!
As Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Unfortunately, we as leaders are often guilty of ‘expedient-caring’ or worse yet ‘exploitive-caring’. In other words, what is in it for me?
Selectively trying to care for people at the right time for some future benefit is like picking stocks or trying to time the market. Most people get it wrong most of the time. Take for instance Inc. magazine’s recent story about Marcus Lemonis’, the star of CNBC’s smash hit “The Profit”:
“Lemonis was back at his old high school in Florida not too long ago, where he spoke to a group of alumni. During the Q&A, a man he recognized as a former classmate asked him for his email. Lemonis is not typically shy about sharing his contact information; his email address is posted next to his picture at the entrance to every Camping World location. If you send him a note, or a tweet, or if you comment on his Facebook page, he promises to respond, personally and without delay. But this man didn’t know that. Nor did he seem to remember that before Lemonis was somebody, his classmates had treated him like a nobody.
“Absolutely not,” Lemonis shot back. “I didn’t come to the school reunion–you want to know why? Because I had two friends I went to high school with and you’re not one of them. The lesson here, man, and you should teach this to your kids: You never know who somebody’s gonna be, or what they’re gonna do. So why not be nice to everybody?””
So the moral of the story is to care about everyone around you all the time. Be genuine. Don’t think that you can use people for your benefit later if you have never shown that you care about them in any meaningful way in the past. Also don’t try to pick stocks or time the market. Both are dumb moves.
As Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” So why are some leaders considered wise while other leaders are considered fools? Here are ten telltale signs that point to a wise leader:
- Wise leaders listen. Foolish leaders like to hear themselves talk.
- Wise leaders constantly learn. Foolish leaders think they know everything.
- Wise leaders guide others. Foolish leaders direct others.
- Wish leaders welcome bad news. Foolish leaders shoot the messenger.
- Wise leaders seek out feedback. Foolish leaders shun feedback.
- Wise leaders are constantly trying to improve. Foolish leaders think they are already perfect.
- Wise leaders are humble. Foolish leaders are proud.
- Wise leaders give credit to others. Foolish leaders take credit for themselves.
- Wise leaders are merciful. Foolish leaders exact justice.
- Wise leaders forgive. Foolish leaders take revenge.
So what stops leaders from being bold? Among many reasons FEAR. FEAR has been known to stand for False Expectations Appearing Real. So if we generally get this, why do we so often shrug away from boldness in our leadership? Could it be that we are afraid to fail? I would offer a resounding YES! Once we have fully committed to a particular direction and are on-the-record there is scarcely a shadow to hide behind.
Setting aside the underlying fear of failure, to understand the importance of boldness in leadership we need to look at the opposite of boldness which is timidity. How many of us have suffered a timid leader? Did that leader inspire us to be our best? No. Did that leader inspire us to follow? No. In fact that leader’s lack of boldness, no matter what the cause, is like a highly infectious virus that is extremely contagious and often lethal. In fact if you look around you it is easy to see that people who have a timid leader often become timid.
So how do you move from timidity to boldness? Here are five things that you can do:
- Recognize FEAR as what it is False Expectations Appearing Real.
- Improve your self-talk. Stop talking to yourself in gloomy overtones about what ‘could’ go wrong. Start talking to yourself about what ‘will’ go right.
- Highlight the opportunities of stepping out. Often we dwell on what will lose if things go wrong. This results in missed opportunities.
- Understand that timidity will lead to the failure you are seeking to avoid. There is something to be said for the saying, “You only live once.” Saying this another way, there are no do-overs. The life you live is the life you will have lived.
- Recognize that boldness invites loyal followers, supporters and mentors to help you. Timidity has the opposite effect.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) famously coined, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”, why is the number of leaders who talk about leadership but do not walk the talk so epidemic?
You would think with a video camera in nearly everyone’s pocket or purse these days, along with the ability to post a video online within seconds that leaders, especially senior leaders, would be more self-aware that their words and actions are under constant scrutiny. Sadly this is not true.
Take for instance; the recent uproar caused by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella comments at a women in technology forum regarding women asking for a pay-raise. Nadella’s comments are illustrative of a widespread leadership lack of self-awareness problem. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8KN3-0ZPH0 While Nadella has since publically retracted his statements and apologized for his inappropriate comments why did he make them in the first place? You would think a senior leader of Nadella’s stature and prestige would be far more aware of his comments and how they might be misunderstood. Sadly apparently not.
So why do leaders fail to walk the talk when most know better? Why do leaders lack self-awareness of how their leadership is impacting the people that they lead? Here are three reasons why:
- A mistaken belief that people will look the other way and disregard their actions in favor of trying to understand what the leader intended to say or do.
- Excessive drivenness that does not allow a leader any time whatsoever to take a breath and reflect on the present moment.
- A lack of understanding of the power of mobile Facebook, Twitter, or other apps that now allow instant global real-time communications.
As humorist Woody Allen jokingly said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
Leaders who fear failure rarely accomplish much if anything. As is well known reasoned risk taking is part and parcel to leadership. A leader who refuses to take any risks due to the fear of failure never really blooms into the leader they might become.
Here are five reasons why a leader who fails to fail is failing:
- Failure shapes humility. Humility is critical to triumph as a leader.
- Failure causes reflection. Reflection develops character.
- Failure tests character. Untested character is dicey.
- Failure builds determination. Determination makes things happen despite the odds.
- Failure leads to challenge. Once a challenge is thrown down meeting it calls for innovation.
When you were a tot, as your Mom always said, “Tell the truth.” To say that it is imperative for a leader to always tell the truth is really a far-reaching understatement. So if the need for truth telling is universally true, then why do so many leaders when under pressure have trouble telling the truth? Instead of simply telling the truth many leaders tend to stretch the truth to its breaking point, or worse yet lie.
From the epic movie, A Few Good Men, when defense attorney Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) presses Marine Corps Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) to tell the truth, Jessup explodes “You can’t handle the truth!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FnO3igOkOk
While this passionate exchange between Lieutenant Kaffee and Colonel Jessup is obviously a Hollywood-dramatization, here are five views on why truth telling is always the right choice:
- Despite cunning ruses, eventually the truth always comes out.
- Truth kept under cover always explodes. The bigger the cover-up generally the larger the explosion.
- There are no acceptable defenses to cover up (or stretch) the truth.
- Covering up the truth is a fundamental integrity issue.
- Your integrity is the foundation of who you are. Once you compromise your integrity, it is nearly impossible to rebuild it.