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Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP

 

A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
March 2016   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Risky Business

Lately I've encountered too many leaders who seem far more concerned with playing it safe than they are with making a difference. The simple truth is that powerful transformational leadership and risk are inseparable. Leadership - real leadership - isn't safe. Never has been, never will be. The few leaders who actually make a meaningful difference to their teams and missions all accept risk as part of the package.

The reality is that the risks of transformational leadership are real. There are no guarantees of success. At times you prevail and at other times, well you know what they say, the pioneers are the one with the arrows in their backs. Churchill put it his own way when he said, "Do you have enemies? Good, it means you stood for something." Standing for something will eventually cost you something.

There is a bit of a paradox here. Leaders who make a difference are the ones who earn the promotions and rise through the ranks. Become a leader who makes teams better, stronger, faster and people notice. But that same work entails rocking the boat and challenging the way things are, that can also get you fired.

I've plenty of first hand experience with this. At one newspaper my drive to assemble a best in class leadership team entailed removing several people who were popular with leaders at head office and one who was popular with a very significant shareholder. There I was back at risk again: do the safe thing and leave a touchy situation alone or take on the problem and the risk. I approached it with care and was able to make the changes I felt had to be made. We built a leadership team I am proud of even today and went on to build that newspaper's performance quite significantly together. The same approach though has cost me a few good clients in the work I do these days. I consider speaking the uncomfortable truth as tactfully as I can to be essential to my work. I know that I have to look into the mirror each day and feel good about the fellow I see. I know that real change isn't possible without confronting difficult and often unpopular choices. Taking risks is essential to powerful leadership. Taking them foolishly is not. When a move was risky I always took care to approach it thoughtfully. In the leadership team example I cited I took care to build my case step by step before I sought the approval to remove the individuals. Still, know that a thoughtful approach reduces risk, it doesn't remove it. So many leaders today just seem unwilling to go there. They will spend careers as safe and ineffectual leaders, stuck endlessly in junior or middle management roles.

Just today, I was coaching another young leader through this same dilemma as she wrestled with whether or not to talk to her boss about an uncomfortable situation - play it safe or take a risk to try to make a difference. The choice will be hers alone as it must be. So where is your leadership today? Are you taking risks to make a difference or are you playing it safe, unwilling to rock the boat. This is a choice that separates the few truly transformational leaders from the league of ordinary managers who populate so many of our organizations.

Discussion questions:

  1. What was the biggest risk you've taken in leadership.
  2. Can you name a risk you had to pay for

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
March 2016   |   By Dan Gaynor

 

Has this article sparked some thinking?
Join our blog Talking Leadership here to share it with other readers.



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