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Team-Building: Developing Responsible Risk-Takers
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Team-Building: Developing Responsible Risk-Takers - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Developing Responsible Risk-Takers

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Developing Responsible Risk-Takers

The employer-employee relationship, even in the best cases, comes with a built-in power structure that is nearly always on the minds of employees. “My boss says…” and “...for my boss” are seldom uttered without an implication of power. The employee knows there is almost no hope of winning a tug-o-war with a boss, leading to an aversion to get into anything remotely resembling a decision that might displease. It’s easier to go along. Going along means succeeding or failing with the boss, but in the worst-case scenario, it seldom means being fired: “I was following instructions.”

Yet nothing new was ever created by going along, and everyone knows it. You know it, but how do you convince those who work for you to believe it? Not overnight, for sure. Establishing a culture of responsible risk-taking takes time. Pamela Fields (former CEO of Stetson) says she communciates to her team all the time that as long as she’s responsible for the decisions and performance of her team, negative consequences go right to her. “I am always there; I will always put myself in the line of fire for people. There’s never been an exception. I take the bullet. That’s my job,” she says*, adding “people know that they can come to me and let me have it if they think I’m wrong. And I love that.”

Clearly, a culture like this must be tested, and testing in real-world situations takes time. It takes far less time to establish a culture of fear. Fear is built in to the status of being an employee, and no matter how hard you fight against this kind of thinking, some small kernel of it will always be there. And fear can be paralyzing. Going along is actually standing still, so it’s on you to convince your team that what it has to fear is not making mistakes--the real fear is of doing nothing, which is bad for everyone. Andrew Thompson (CEO and co-founder of Proteus Digital Health) says*, “What you focus on much more is risk-taking and a bias to action. So the real sin in a small company is not making a mistake, it’s not moving.” A “bias to action” means that the default should always be to do something--it’s the errors of omission vs. errors of commission situation again, and you know which side you want your team to be on.

Because good teams follow good leaders, nurturing a culture of responsible risk-taking also means modeling responsible risk-taking yourself. In what way are you taking risks, personal or professional? How can you put yourself out there for the good of the company? Part of good risk-taking means making yourself vulnerable. Everyone knows what your strengths are--does everyone also know what your challenges and apprehensions are? Whether it’s reluctance to speak in front of large audiences, discomfort with sharing feelings, or just sharing a home-made dish at a potluck, let your team know what’s difficult for you and then put yourself out there. Sure, some of it may largely be symbolic, but everyone appreciates the boss making him- or herself vulnerable, and then testing those vulnerabilities. Small moments of risk-taking lead to larger moments of risk-taking, and the more practiced you are at modeling risk-taking, the more likely your team will be to absorb the approach as company culture.

* In Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation by Adam Bryant.


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Team-Building: Developing Responsible Risk-Takers - Executive Leadership Articles

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