Ambition Trumps Risk

I have served under many managers, leaders, supervisors, and commanders, some great, some not. The vast majority of them rely on positional power, few understood any power outside of legitimate power, but we all depend on the power given by those directly above us. Because we all don’t have referent power, this is where the real problems begin. How much room does your boss give you to take risk and make mistakes? How much do you avoid risk to make sure your boss thinks you don’t make mistakes?

It has been my experience that an overwhelmingly amount of bosses and managers are very much for risk avoidance. Leaders and managers everywhere speak about innovation, but the activities required to create a culture where innovation takes place are nonexistent. We are in love with innovation and risk taking on a surface level but fail to turn those ideas into action? Ambition is the reason!

Don’t get me wrong ambition is vital to progression. We don’t want to take away people’s ambition. But because people have ambition and want to get promoted or rewarded in some way, they are scared to take risk. What we want to do is change the mindset of the organization. We want organizations to stop judging our managers and supervisors by how few mistakes they make, but by a combination of their success and attempts to improve. I have seen many managers be considered successful and quality managers when they only kept their head above water and knew how to avoid risk expertly. Avoiding risk kills the spirit of innovation and gives managers a false sense of achievement.

Unfortunately, the only way this can change is from the top. The highest levels of the organization need to shift the way they think about risk. They must reassure those under them that they will understand and appreciate risk, that they don’t need to avoid risk at the cost of improvements. It is great to say you embrace change and innovation, but there must be action to show that you do. There needs to be constant communication to make the shift happen. Managers and supervisors need to trust that their boss is not just providing lip service. The trust will come after managers see the risks they take that end up in failures are not falsely attributed to their ability to manage or lead. Execution of the risk is a crucial factor in all of this. If the execution is poorly done then, managers need to go to great lengths to make sure they are specific in their feedback. They need to be careful to correct the execution mistakes and not discourage future attempts at improving.

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