The Bottom Line | Steve AdubatoQuestion: How important is it for the leader of an organization to encourage people to take risks?
Adubato: Organizational leaders of all stripes say they want their people to ?think and act outside the box.? While everyone talks about risk taking, employees who actually have to take the risks are often reluctant to do so. At a recent leadership seminar, the CEO of a metropolitan-area hospital talked about the need for his people to ?think and act outside the box.? While his hospital had made great strides in terms of patient satisfaction and increased revenues, the CEO still wasn?t satisfied. He wanted his people to ?take more risks? and not be restricted by the organizational chart when it came to their day-to-day activities. When asked about this, the CEO responded, ?We can?t afford to have people saying things like, ?That?s not my job.??
Question: If real leadership requires calculated risk taking, why are there so many obstacles to making this happen?
Adubato: Sometimes it is because employees aren?t really convinced that senior organizational leaders want them to take risks. They hear the rhetoric, but aren?t sure that their bosses will still stand behind them if things don?t turn out right?particularly when it involves money.
The rhetoric around risk taking is easy. The reality of its implementation is a lot more complex.
Another problem is all the horror stories about someone who took a risk and got his head handed to him. Organizational culture is shaped by these stories. No matter what a CEO says about the need to take risks, these horror stories shape people?s attitudes.
Question: Is there value in sharing the success stories of risk taking?
Adubato: There is not enough emphasis put on the success stories of people who took risks. If people can?t readily identify others around them who have thought and acted outside the box and who were recognized for it, it can be really tough to get people to buy in. Organizations need to recognize and celebrate risk taking through newsletters, organizational meetings and everyday office water-cooler banter. Even something as simple as an e-mail congratulating the risk taker that is distributed to all employees can create an environment where people are more likely to take a risk.
Question: Is it just the CEO?s responsibility to reinforce this risk-taking culture or should others in the organization also be involved?
Adubato: Even if upper management really wants people to take risks, sometimes middle managers are resistant. If an employee does something creative that falls outside his job description, and his direct supervisor gives him hell, then it doesn?t matter what the CEO says. The employee doesn?t interact with the CEO on a day-to-day basis. He deals with a direct supervisor. Upper management needs to be aware of these organizational mixed messages and then penalize those who hinder the empowerment of employees who are willing to take risks.
Question: What are some of the common fears people face with respect to risk taking?
Adubato: For some it is fear of failure. For others, it may even be a fear of succeeding. Sometimes there is a fear that as a risk taker you will be perceived as ?kissing up? to upper management. In unhealthy organizations, being a team player sometimes means promoting and perpetuating the status quo. Where this is the case, risk taking will undoubtedly be the exception. Fear can also stem from employees not being clear on the organization?s top priorities and strategic objectives.
People need to know that the benefit derived from the risk they take will be directly connected to the goals that are most important to the organization. If those goals are unclear, employees will be reluctant to take risks because they aren?t sure how the risk is connected to the bigger picture.
The Bottom Line: Creating a culture where risk taking is acknowledged and rewarded will lead to individual and organizational success.
Steve Adubato is the author of ?Speak from the Heart? (Simon & Schuster). He is also an anchor for Channel 13/WNET (PBS) and a motivational speaker. He can be reached at (973) 744-5260 or at www.stand-deliver.com.
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