Real Leaders

Risk Is Not An Excuse For Leaders to Behave Badly

Risks are not aspects of our personality that we can wish away or pretend don’t exist—they are hardwired in us. They manifest when we feel uncomfortable and stressed, and when faced with pressure or conflict.

The dilemma is this: Because our risks have become ingrained behaviors over our lifetime as natural responses to certain stimuli, we seldom recognize them. We may understand in the moment that we are not at our best, but frequently we do not realize how we are undermining our effectiveness. Therefore, when our risks are left to run unchecked, we can hurt ourselves, our teams, and our clients, without realizing or intending to do so.

Because most people are unaware of their risks, those risks are always manifesting at work and at home, which can and does result in derailment — leadership derailment or, in the case of far too many women, the derailment of upward career mobility.

Leadership success and (career) derailment largely depend upon two factors:

  1. Your relationships with others, including their perceptions about your performance
  2. Your contributions or results produced for the good of the organization.

Overwhelmingly, the first of these is the most critical in terms of leadership derailment. A leader may have produced outstanding results, yet if he or she has damaged relationships along the way or has operated with a lack of integrity, derailment may be inevitable.

“Well, that is who I am . . . and my people will just need to deal with it.”

The time has come to deal with unacceptable leader behaviors—through accountability and no longer tolerating disrespectful behavior. For centuries leading up to today, too many leaders have been allowed to express, or have even been promoted for, their “bad” behaviors. Their bosses and boards look the other way because of the bottom line or other results they enjoy.

This can and must stop. Effective leaders’ primary job is to show their employees that they value and respect them. When leaders value their employees and stakeholders, they show them respect and support, cultivate their talent, and build trust to fortify healthy working relationships. This increases the odds for exceptional performance and loyalty.

Here’s the catch: every leader has risks. And the fact is that every leader needs to manage his or her risks. Here are ten suggestions for leaders to manage, neutralize, and prevent risks:

  1. Take a deep dive assessment, including personality character traits/strengths, and a leadership risk assessment for derailment. I also advise a motivational assessment to learn one’s intrinsic driver and reward needs.
  2. Hire a leadership coach or assessment certified consultant to debrief and discuss your risks, what triggers them, and ways to manage and prevent them.
  3. Analyze your risks further, develop tactics and skills, and practice new approaches.
  4. Work with a coach, mentor, or trusted advisor on an ongoing basis to work through you risks.
  5. Manage your stress and your emotional responses to prevent automatically going to a risk response. Develop “in the moment” tactics to calm down or stabilize your emotional response.
  6. Do work you enjoy and find captivating—when you are happy and content, your risks don’t show.
  7. Always be respectful and civil. Always.
  8. Work with your team to share your risks and learn about theirs. Help each other.
  9. If you misstep, apologize right away. Discuss and work on repairing the trust and building the relationship. Be vulnerable. Be humble.
  10. Build on your new level of self-awareness. Build on your strengths, find hidden talents, work on those things you enjoy, and that energize you. Know your risks and what triggers them—and manage them. Be accountable.

When a leader (intentionally) keeps his or her risks in check and shows people that they respect and value them, the sky’s the limit. When a leader values people and builds trust, this has the power to transform the work environment from one of fear and misery to one of joy and fulfillment, where boundless achievements are possible.

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