Alex Malley, author, believes that leadership is about the risk and reward
As a parent of seven and a long-term CEO, one of my greatest concerns is that somehow, we have created a world that appears to be 90 percent risk management and 10 percent vision.
Ironically, we got to the moon and back in 1969 with less technology than we now find in a cell phone – this is such a wonderful representation of an era where the risk/vision ratio was quite the opposite to what we seemingly have today.
I am stunned by how many risk-averse leaders I meet these days. It is glaringly obvious that they fear failure, and their fundamental motivation is survival. I see it in politics, workplaces and in day-to-day life.
Life and leadership should be about the adventure, risk and reward. Those who lead to survive almost always have shorter tenures than those who dare to dream.
Here’s my approach for courageous leadership:
Avoid making it personal
Many leaders confuse their personal identity with their professional role. They allow their title to define them. As a consequence, decision-making naturally becomes blurred by the need to protect their personal reputation. Genuine leadership and the people you are responsible for cannot afford such a personal conflict – it is about them, not you.
Hire people smarter than you
A leader must ultimately rely on his or her judgment. It must be informed by the people around them – the smarter the people, the more effective the decisions. Don’t be threatened by people who know more than you. Seek them out, they will inspire big ideas and decisions.
The strength of empathy
People are complex. Leadership, like life, does not come with an instruction manual. Therefore, your best friend—alongside authenticity—is the expression of empathy. It draws out the best in individuals, because the leader learns to adapt their management style to particular personalities and situations. It can also help to reset a relationship, allowing self-belief and mutual trust to be built or rebuilt.
Reacting to failure
The reality is sometimes things will go wrong. These moments provide great opportunities to show your character, good grace and concern for others. Remember, everyone is watching for the leader’s reaction and direction. At its core, you need to alert your staff that you will wear the consequences of this circumstance, particularly when you know that everyone has done the best they can to achieve the vision. The lesson of your accountability will be profound for your colleagues.
Seek honest feedback about you
People highly respect a leader who encourages genuine, anonymous feedback. What better example to set with your people than to put your reputation on the line to glean their honest opinions? Such information, whether harsh or not, will help you to marry your self-awareness with other people’s perceptions, so that they ultimately become consistent. A leader without self-awareness has limited capacity to grow.
Making tough decisions for long term benefit
This is best expressed anecdotally. During a national television debate I participated in at the height of the global financial crisis, my combatant kept referring to the need for a ‘market correction,’ whereas I insisted on a ‘human correction.’ I questioned why more business leaders did not have the courage to engage in an honest, public discourse with their stakeholders and community about the issues and tough decisions they needed to confront. Without doing so, who could shareholders trust if not the leader of the business?
I worry that my debating opponent’s dethatched perspective continues to be reflective of many in business leadership today. Rather, it is about making the necessary tough decisions, modifying behaviors and rebuilding public trust when that is warranted.
How do you rank as a courageous leader?