Leader, How Do You Lean? Opportunistic Or Risk Adverse?

Lean Back.

2 x 4 is half of 16!
All for opportunity do the lean-a-lean!
A lean-a-lean a-lean-a-lean, a-lean-a-lean.
A lean-a-lean a-lean-a-lean, a- lean-a-lean.

Do you remember that school cheer? I can remember my high school standing and “doing the lean” to show our support for our team.

So leader, how do you lean? Are seen as opportunistic or risk adverse?

If you want to be seen as a strategic player on your team you’ll have to learn to balance both.

Paddling Outrigger Canoes

Leaders are constantly guiding their teams through new, unchartered waters balancing a variety of factors.

As a leader, do you ever feel like you are paddling a canoe upstream against the current? Or that you are paddling in circles getting nowhere fast? Or that you are paddling in someone else’s wake?

One thing is for sure. You are always paddling a canoe with two outriggers:

  1. Balancing the long range with the short range
  2. Managing the present

An outrigger is part of the boat’s rigging that extends beyond the side of the boat. It is typically rigid and parallel to the main hull of the boat so that the boat won’t capsize.

Why paddle a canoe with outriggers? Because outriggers greatly increase the stability of the boat. And, they can move fast and easily maneuver rough waters as well.

However, put too much weight on one of the outriggers and the canoe capsizes.

The wise leader is always balancing two outriggers: the big picture and little details on one side and managing the present on the other side. Put too much emphasis on one of the outriggers and the organization goes askew.

Great Balancing Acts

Some leaders only focus on the big picture, the long range. They see their customers all lumped together as various market segments. They rarely see their customers as individuals.

Some leaders never see the big picture. Instead, they operate in crisis mode, always focused on the short range, the details, the logistics. They become prisoners of their own operations. Get too close to the details, and the overall issues get lost.

Another balancing act that leaders must face is concentrating too many resources on one goal while providing enough diversification. Concentration can provide maximum results. But concentrating can be risky, especially if you’ve chosen the wrong concentration. On the other hand, too much diversification can lead to splintering.

Three Questions To Balance Caution And Risk

Probably the toughest balancing act that leaders must face is the delicate equilibrium between being too cautious and being rash.

Personally, I’ve seen more organizations damaged by too much caution than by rashness. Many leaders are over-cautious. They rarely take risks.

The first question a leader should ask when balancing opportunity and risk: “Is this decision reversible?” If it is, consider taking the risk.

The second question to ask, “Is it a risk we can afford? If it goes wrong, does it hurt a little or destroy us?”

Probably the most complicated question to ask, “Is it a risk we can’t afford not to take?”

As an organization, you run far too a great a risk of being seen as more mediocre than risky. People want to align with success, not mediocrity.

Why do many leaders lean more to risk-adverse than opportunity? What steps can a leader take to recognize and welcome calculated risks and opportunities?

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