Encourage your people to take risks? The very idea is enough to make many CEOs shudder.
Because you shoulder the responsibility of keeping performance high for the entire organization, sometimes you may be risk averse. Even acknowledging the existence of risk requires you to admit that you don’t have all the answers. That doesn’t sit well with the image of you as a fearless, confident leader.
Doug Stern, CEO of United Media, follows an explicit process anytime he faces a new, risky project, such as selling some of his company’s assets. He uses the same tactics to help his team evaluate risks and build its confidence about confronting the unknown:
- He asks the team to imagine every bad scenario, even the most unlikely—what he calls the “darkest nightmares.”
- He gives everyone a chance to describe those scenarios in detail and then to “peer into the darkness” together.
- The team collectively devises a detailed plan in response to each nightmare.
- After fears are exposed and dealt with, the team has a protocol in place for every “nightmare” scenario.
Bottom line: CEOs who hone their skills at engaging with risk—who learn to acknowledge the fear and overcome that emotion—can also help others summon their courage and unleash tremendous potential.
— Adapted from “How centered leaders achieve extraordinary results,” Joanna Barsh, Josephine Mogelof and Caroline Webb, McKinsey Quarterly.
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