A limited amount of people enjoy taking risks. Although some thrive on doing so. What prevents more people and leaders from experiencing the opportunity upside of risk taking?
There are a variety of risk tolerant levels people have, but most will lean towards being conservative. This isn’t such a bad thing, but I like to think about taking risks from both a strategic and possibilities perspective, versus only considering the downside of the equation.
Another way to think about how to go about taking risks is to factor in being more calculated with what the outcome can serve up, and this is where leaders will enact thinking which will help to mitigate their risk levels. They typically will have to do this because most of them are having to report their actions to others. Or have them approved prior to taking them. There is also the reality that the leaders have a level of responsibility to protecting those they lead from being intentionally put into harm’s way.
This weekend I was talking to my youngest son about safety, and how conservative his industry has become in terms of taking risk. Of course, much of this is driven by the fact our society has become so litigious. The other half of the equation has to do with people wanting to play it safer than they had even a decade ago. Why? Because they are not willing to put themselves in an outcome that could have such severe consequences. I don’t blame them, as they are choosing not to compromise their well-being over putting the company or leaders demands first.
When people choose to be more conservative in their thinking, the impact it can have on our society is interesting. It is interesting because it is the risk takers who are the ones contributing to the new inventions and discoveries which we can benefit from. In the absence of having more risk takers, and people who are willing to push the limits on what is possible, we are at risk in a different way. A way that decreases the opportunity for accelerating the timelines that the risk takers are willing to accept the outcome of.
In terms of also thinking about why many people are risk adverse or collectively conservative is something I think about often. I even challenge myself on whether I am taking enough risks, or more calculated risks to allow me a wider path or opportunity to experience more success. Success that in my mind might be measured entirely different from others, but that is the beauty in also thinking about risk taking. It can and should be customized to your risk tolerance level. Yet, I also believe that our risk tolerance level is fluid and will be different from a timeline perspective based on the circumstances in our life or professional journey.
If I think back to when I was in my early twenties, I remember being afraid to take risks, but I did certainly take them. Some of them paid off, and others were a complete disaster. I learned from both, but more so from the ones I failed at. However, I also recall thinking at that period in my life that I understood how to thoroughly think through mitigating my risks, but the reality is that I was too young and inexperienced to do so. In crystal clear hindsight, I should have asked others for advice on some of my decisions, but I didn’t, and I accept that. I also would have greatly benefitted from having a professional mentor, but I didn’t even know that was a concept at that time. At least not from a formal perspective other than relying upon my parents.
Something which occurred to me in the last decade is how fortunate collectively we are as a society now from the perspective of having the opportunity to have others provide us with guidance. What is odd about stating this is that the reality is that we are more connected now digitally than we have been in a few decades, yet so many people are experiencing loneliness. Being in this state is certainly not conducive to taking risks, or perhaps not as many constructive ones. When someone is lonely, their thinking becomes more compromised to think and dwell upon more negative emotions and outcomes, but not entirely. I’m making a generalization, to emphasize the point that given our heightened ability to be connected digitally, people are lonelier than ever.
In my opinion, people’s experience with loneliness has more to do with the fact their connections are digital versus in person. Most of us since Covid have spent much more time digitally interacting with one another, and this is factoring being on video meetings with people. Although there is greater convenience to meeting digitally, I don’t think it serves the same level of increasing our ability to connect as in person meetings and interactions do. This is partially why leaders and employers have more recently mandated their employees to return to a hybrid office model. Why? Because yes, there are numerous other reasons for bringing people back into working together in person, but in my opinion, more meaningful connections and risk tolerance levels will go up when people connect in person.
Independent of how you would classify yourself on a risk scale, or whether you have considered why you don’t take more risks, below are some ideas and intentionally thought providing one’s for you or others you lead to consider.
- Let’s first have you rate yourself presently on an in general risk tolerance level on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest).
- Now, think about your rating. Is this a rating you would have given yourself 5-10 years ago?
- If your rating is different from the past, what are the contributing factors that have made you more or less risk tolerant?
- When you think about taking any type of risk, what is the first emotion you experience?
- If the emotion you are experiencing is contributing to having you be either risk adverse or at a lower risk tolerance level than you would like to be at, are there tangible and realistic ways you can adjust personally or professionally to increase your risk tolerance level?
- Assuming you want to increase your risk tolerance level, will doing so impact others you lead or who depend on you? If so, begin thinking about what are the risks you want to take that will impact others, and can you collectively come up with a solution to mitigate the risks you want to take? This will entail having to communicate your risk thinking to others.
- Risk taking doesn’t have to be associated with negative thinking, but the way we individually think about it will contribute to whether we are willing to become more risk tolerant. This is presuming you will be practical and clearly accepting the fact you will need to think more broadly than you have about taking risks before.
There are numerous and amazing stories about leaders and sports coaches who have been willing to take a risk, or many of them. These stories can be both informative and inspiring, and not all of the stories have the ending that was desired. However, if the risks were not taken, they never would have known what was possible, and in my opinion, this would be more tragically regretful than not taking the risk.
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