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C-Suite Leadership: The Importance of Risk-Making

By Will Hewet

Are you stifling one of the most important skills of your executive team?

Rebecca was seeing a frustrating trend in the conversations and actions on her Leadership Team. A hard-driving CEO of a major utility company, she couldn’t understand why her senior leaders were playing it so safe, especially at a time when they were charged with fundamentally shifting the model of the company to align with a green-energy future. She was feeling pressure from the Board to speed up the company’s transition and out-compete new green-centric startups in their space, all while keeping up with increasing regulations.

In her mind, Rebecca was doing the right thing to drive innovation by giving her VPs clear mandates to break new ground. During team meetings, she implored them to execute and innovate more effectively. In one-on-ones she would more directly offer what she thought was good critical feedback.

What she was failing to see, however, what she failed to see was that her own leadership moves were creating an environment of over-cautiousness and fear.

In this time of great transition, we often see this tendency for executive leaders to unknowingly dampen their team’s willingness to take risks in the direction of a bold vision.

There exists no risk-free path to becoming one of the great success stories in the next era of business.

De-risking is a pervasive topic as leaders across all sectors examine its role in shaping the future of work. Risk-taking often carries connotations of being reckless, jeopardizing stability and safety by not considering the possible downsides of actions.

At Genii Earth, we consider risk-making an essential skill for executives leading for the next way and an essential cultural quality of next-way companies. Risk making is intentional, strategic and serves a shared purpose.

Here are a few ways that CEOs and other executive leaders can help their teams begin balancing de-risking with strategic risk-making:

  • Become conscious of how your leadership and interaction style dampen or embolden risk-making. In Rebecca’s case, her team found that her default setting when interacting with them was to be critical and confrontational. They slowly stopped challenging her ideas, became less bold with each other, and more protective of their individual domains.
  • Highlight risk-making as one of the most important qualities you expect of your teams and leaders. To paraphrase Edgar Schein, the influential observer of organizational culture, what senior leaders pay attention to, reward and control are key drivers of organizational culture. Do you have established principles for risk-making? Are you raising risk-making as a desired skill? Are you rewarding and acknowledging your leaders for getting out on the “skinny branches?” Do you embrace both their successes and failures in a manner that encourages a greater willingness to take risks?
  • Model risk-making in your own work. How could you be more transparent with your teams about your own risk-making? Are you sharing both your successes and your failures? Are you welcoming their challenges to your thinking (which may feel risky for them to express)?
  • Create team practices to support risk-making. Have team members regularly share the way in which they are stepping out. Encourage their peers to offer feedback, guidance and acknowledgement for getting out of their comfort zone.

When cultivated with intention, a culture of healthy risk-making raises the energy, sense of aliveness and forward movement in an organization.  And generating a risk-making culture requires individual courage and skill and team support.

When Rebecca, through a 360 feedback process and coaching, was able to see how her executive team experienced her leadership style, she decided to be transparent with her team about her new awareness. She started including them in her learning journey. This, in itself, was a risk-making move and resulted in more openness, trust and support among the team for everyone to be bolder in service of their bold purpose.

Being a leader of the next way is not for the faint of heart. It is a journey that can be immensely rewarding, not just in the results you produce, but in the experience of continuously shedding old patterns and knowing more of your capacity to cause change.

To introduce your team to the benefits and skills of Risk-Making, check out Genii’s new Introductory Series workshop, Positive Risk – Becoming a Vibrant Team that Breaks Through.

 

 

 

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