In his book Winners Never Cheat, Jon H Huntsman references a 2004 survey that found that three in five senior leaders in Fortune 1,000 companies had no desire to become CEO.
That is a lot of top leadership turning away what many would consider the most coveted position in a top company. Why?
The reason may or may not surprise you. It is about risks. Huntsman says that those senior leaders feared the potential for catastrophic failure at that level.
The higher you go up the ladder, the greater risks you take of falling. To reach the rungs of CEO means you are willing to take the highest of risks.
Does this surprise you? I mean, why wouldn’t a leader who has been making the climb up the ladder, rung by rung, all of a sudden become fearful at the top?
While not everyone is a fit to be CEO, every leader must be fit to take risks.
The reality is, regardless of where a leader is on the ladder, they have to take risks and face the potential of failure. Huntsman says, “Never having failed is never having led.”
Leaders do their teams, their organizations and company an injustice by not being willing to take risks.
Bestselling author Seth Godin once said, “Playing it safe and not taking a risk is probably the most dangerous thing you could do in today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive business environment.”
Treading water is not an option. If leaders are going to find better ways to do something, they have to take risks. If leaders want to take their teams and organizations to the next level, they have to take risks. If leaders want to be respected, they have to take risks.
Playing it safe only results in mediocrity.
How can leaders stay away from playing it safe and feel more comfortable in taking risks?
- Think positive. All of us engage in negative talk from time to time, or maybe all of the time. But instead of thinking about what could go wrong, focus on what can go right. That doesn’t mean you aren’t blind to the risks and dangers, but you aren’t obsessed with them either.
- Focus on the vision and goals. Leaders who have a vision are not easily paralyzed by fear. Vision leads to greater conviction and greater conviction will lead to greater focus, more courage and better results.
- Learn from mistakes. Nothing in life is learned or gained without some type of failure—both small and large. Fail forward—meaning, when a mistake is made don’t see it as a step backward, see it as an opportunity to move one step closer to success. But also realize that it is important to stop and calculate any risks as well. Failing to prepare for something that could have easily been avoided just doesn’t make sense. Always take measured risks, not stupid risks.
It is inevitable that leaders who take risks aren’t always going to be successful. But fear should never hold you back from making you, your team and organization better!
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