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John Maxwell Team Certified Member

Priscilla Archangel is a John Maxwell Team Certified Coach, Teacher and Speaker.

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    Managing Risk: Priorities and Decisions

    Bob sat down at his desk and let out a huge sigh. He had just returned from lunch with one of the board members at his company. They were preparing for the current CEO to retire within the next 6 months and the board wanted to initiate a formal selection process to confirm Bob as a candidate to replace him. Bob had been with the company for 15 years and held the CFO role for 5 years. It was time to step up. He knew the inner workings of the company as well as challenges in the industry. He also knew that his chances of being selected were pretty good. But there was one nagging issue on his mind. He fundamentally felt that the strategy the current CEO and Board were pursuing wasn’t going to pay off the way they thought. He had shared his concerns in the past but given the politics didn’t feel he could push it too far. Now, if he were to be selected as CEO, he realized he couldn’t lead the organization forward with a strategy he didn’t believe in. He knew that two or three of the twelve board members might support his thinking, but that wasn’t sufficient to make the shift he felt was necessary. And if he declined consideration, he’d have to come up with a really good reason because telling them he didn’t believe in their strategy would call into question his role over the past several years.

    If someone else were selected, he wasn’t sure if their interpersonal dynamics or opinion on the running the business would align. Plus, if the new leader determined a different strategy was in order, he might bring in his own CFO anyway, thinking that Bob either wasn’t the right fit, or that the first runner up for the CEO position wouldn’t be loyal to the selected one. He would either need to step up and go for it or leave.

    Bob was in just one of many situations over the course of his 30-year career where he needed to navigate organizational and environmental politics. He had a few scars from the past, but he prided himself on his ability to bounce back, build and maintain strong relationships with the board members and avoid some of the missteps of his peers. This might be the pivotal point though. And, as only his wife knew, he wasn’t even sure he really wanted to be CEO. He knew his own strengths, passions and weaker areas, and though the title sounded great, he really preferred and operated best in the CFO role. He was now at the riskiest point in his career.

    Bob’s major risk didn’t begin when he was asked to consider the CEO role. It began years earlier when he contributed to defining the company strategy and didn’t voice his concerns in a persuasive enough manner to ensure they were heard or not being minimized.

    The Risks We Confront

    Successful careers come with an ongoing series of professional and personal risks to be managed. The ability to chart a course through land mines, quicksand, and potholes requires skill and insight sprinkled with a lot of chance, none of which ever aligns perfectly. And the reality is that a poor decision in one area may easily impact the other.

    These decisions managing through a myriad of risks impact our careers on a daily basis. The following are typical examples of these situations.

    • What job do I accept? You research, network and gain as much information as possible about the position, leadership, culture, compensation, responsibilities, career growth prospects, then take a risk on your decision.
    • Who do I align myself with politically in the organization? When leaders adopt conflicting positions, or have negative interpersonal dynamics, their team members or others in the organization may feel forced to take sides. Sometimes staying in “Switzerland” or being neutral isn’t possible, especially the farther you move up the ranks.
    • What is my personal brand? Decisions about your area of specialization or expertise, your visual presence, networks, professional approach and how you leverage your strengths will expose you to some opportunities and eliminate others.
    • What’s my summary recommendation on a project? In the midst of political positioning on controversial issues, you may feel pressure to present a recommendation that minimizes safety issues, maximizes profits or downplays quality issues.
    • Should I support my work friend even though my other peers don’t believe she’s adding much value to the organization? When work politics don’t align with your personal choice of friends, you may be forced to choose whether you support your friend’s candidacy for a position or agree with others’ point of view.
    • How do I show up at my new job? The way you transition into the workplace, set priorities with your new team or work with a coach to become acclimated can make all the difference in a successful start.

    How We Manage Risk

    Our approach to managing each of these scenarios is driven by our priorities, values and our decision quality.

    Recognizing that these risks are inherent by virtue of being in an organization, we have to try to manage our options and minimize problematic issues. There are a few ground rules to guide our behavior.

    • Identify priorities and values – Know what you stand for. Clarify your values. They will be challenged regularly and if you don’t first know what you stand for, you won’t be able to respond appropriately.
    • Properly recognize where risk exists – This is part of being politically savvy and sensitive to how individuals and organizations operate. You have to anticipate issues, be able to identify the potholes (smaller consequences) from the land mines (major consequences) and navigate effectively.
    • Anticipate probabilities – This includes determining the likelihood of a negative or positive consequence occurring.
    • Determine mitigating responses – Being proactive to address the risk includes building coalitions and support; getting advice from a mentor or sponsor, and effectively weighing the pros and cons.
    • Determine the potential impact – Many risks are political. Some are financial such as job loss, loss of funding for a project or negative impact to company revenues. Others impact careers, personal branding, professional stature or credibility. Where behavior may be perceived as improper, unethical, immoral or illegal, people tend to erroneously assume their role will never be discovered, or they somehow justify their behavior. And the result is then reputational, the most difficult risk to recover from.

    Most importantly, understand that you can’t anticipate all of your future risks. You must navigate carefully. Build professional relationships on the basis of integrity. Avoid saying things about colleagues behind their backs that you wouldn’t share with them face to face. Share and document your professional recommendations and insights with respect for others’ opinions. Bravely stand up for issues of safety, quality and fairness. And at the end of the day, be prepared to live with your decisions, even if they aren’t popular.

    Managing risk is not to be confused with avoiding it. You are guaranteed to be in risky situations. Managing risk means measuring and accepting it and being willing to face it head on, responsibly.

    Copyright 2019 Priscilla Archangel
    Photo credit: Shutterstock

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