Messages from the Masters
A Leader Is a Risk Taker by Sheila Murray Bethel, Ph.D.

Risk-taking is an indispensable part of leadership. When we look at leaders who are making a difference we see that they have the courage to begin while others are waiting for a better time, a safer situation, or assured results. They are willing to take risk because they know that being over cautious and indecisive kills opportunity.  Leaders understand that if they are to prosper in the 21st century they must use their risk-taking abilities to create an environment that encourages innovation and creativity.  They must constantly renew themselves and their followers. 
Leaders are also aware of the three personal benefits of risk-taking that will enhance their capabilities. They are increased awareness, expanded knowledge, and broadened excitement.


One of the greatest personal benefits of risk-taking is that it increases your awareness. By opening your eyes and often your mind. The better you know yourself the wiser you become.  If you go through life with a closed mind, you block out opportunities to broaden your leadership and to make a difference.  Awareness and new perceptions give you immeasurable resources for the future.

Taking a risk is the best way -- often the only way -- to add to your knowledge of what works and what doesn't.  It's important to know whether the statement, "it can't be done" is right or wrong.  Knowledge itself has some built-in risks.  As it expands, you may learn things about yourself that you don't like.  You may discover areas of your personality that need work.  You may have to take action, make changes and grow.  Knowledge robs you of the luxury of ignorance.  If you're honest, you can use your new self-perceptions to strengthen your effectiveness as a leader.


"Thrill seeking" doesn't always have positive connotations, but without excitement, exaltation, even ecstasy, your existence would be very boring.  Being involved with people or organizations that are doing exciting, positive things can be one of life's greatest pleasures.  We all like to be involved with strong teams and systems that make a difference in the world.  Making a contribution, receiving recognition, and growing are the kinds of excitement that are the prime benefits of risk-taking.

Set the example

If you accept the premise that leaders lead primarily by example, then you must send a strong message to your followers that says, "it is okay to make a mistake while learning to take risk."  If you don't send that message, you will cripple them with the burden of perfection.  When you can admit your own failures and mistakes.  When you can say things like " I blew it, I'm sorry, let's try again," you build a bond between you and your followers.  The leader who won't accept responsibility for mistakes and failure loses credibility. Some people view admitting failure as a weakness. They think that as a leader they must be perfect.  But the opposite is true.  By not admitting their errors these leaders let followers believe it is not acceptable to make a mistake. Helping people take risk is a vital job of a leader. You need followers who will try something new rather than stick with the comfortable.  You can help them be more receptive to risk-taking when you give them encouragement.

Strategies to support risksThere are two ways to help others take risks. The first is to cultivate their sense of "ownership" in your organization, project, idea or goal.  Ownership comes from, taking part in decisions, being able to accept delegated tasks, being part of the team and being inspired by a leader who can communicate a sense of purpose. The second way is to give others permission to make mistakes as they learn. Let people fail in small ways as they build the skill to win in big ways.  We all learn by trying, making mistakes and trying again.  Followers deserve solid encouragement, even when they make mistakes.  Cultivating ownership, eliminating the need for perfection, and allowing people to fail in order to learn are the basis for helping others to be risk takers that can make a difference.

To learn more about Sheila Murray Bethel's audios, books and speaking schedule, visit  © Copyright Bethel Institute 2000

Provided courtesy of  Jim Rohn International