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Nov 18, 2010

Leadership Requires Risking Failure

When we ask our leadership to take calculated risks, does that calculation allow for occasional failure? Failure and its relation to leadership are rarely discussed because we associate leadership with success. This however, is problematic if we expect our leaders to create dynamic organizations.

Expecting our leaders to bat 1,000, never slipping or failing outright, will never support risk-taking leadership. Is calculated risk defined as only choosing initiatives that are highly likely to succeed?  Do we insist that success also means that the initiative will be completed by a certain date, or meet specified criteria?  Bold endeavors and significant changes in direction are not likely to survive these calculations.

In the Leadership chapter (you’ll find it starting on page 53) of my book, More than Just Money, I wrote, “the most demanding definition of a leader is a person who works hard for success but who is also willing to fail. More bluntly, a leader is willing to risk getting fired in order to try something new or different.”

Put simply, “we must ask ourselves if we back the safe leader who makes constituents feel good, is comfortable with the current convention, and keeps the boat upright, but who never reaches for big ideas, bold change, or challenges the status quo. Or are we willing to support a leader who bats only 300, striking out every so often but occasionally hitting a few home runs and, by his or her risks, helps some other organizations or initiatives score a few runs too?”

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