Lion: Risk And Reward

Oz07Cowardly Lion: All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.

Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow: What’s that?

Cowardly Lion: Talk me out of it!

Ever seen that classic motivational poster for “risk”? You know which one I’m talking about, right? It’s one of those cookie-cutter motivational posters that companies love to hang in their lobbies and conference rooms. You’ve seen them before… TEAMWORK, ENDURANCE, CUSTOMER SERVICE, etc. This particular one simply reads RISK. Now, sometimes the backdrop in the photo is different but the premise is always the same. It’s either a small ship next to an enormous iceberg or a tiny boat moving towards a gigantic horizon. But no matter the backdrop the emphasis is the “smallness” of the boat compared to the imminent and unknown threat. And right underneath the word risk it usually reads something like this, “Ships are safe in the harbor… but that’s not what ships were made for.” Yep, that’s the one I’m talking about.Risk

One of the great challenges in the modern business world is knowing which risks to take. With a technological base that changes faster than we can keep pace and an ever-increasing push toward globalization and standardization, managers find themselves precariously balanced between being cut-out and being cutting-edge. Move too fast and you might smash into the iceberg. Move too slow and someone else might beat you to the horizon (i.e., prize). The savvy businessman is one who has learned the fine art of managing risk in such a way that it minimizes potential losses while also taking full advantage of potential gains. The bottom line is that risk and reward are many times inseparably linked. Little risk usually means little reward. However, the reality is that the opposite also holds true. Great risk, while it can translate into great reward, can also mean great loss if not managed properly. Hence, the reason why so many “misfit managers” follow the example of our friend, the cowardly Lion.

The Lion wanted to do the right thing. He really did. He cared deeply about his friends (i.e., coworkers), he was concerned about their future (i.e., bottom line), and he understood that the current situation demanded action (i.e., managed response). But the problem was that for all his good intentions he was crippled by a lack of courage. Now understand, courage is NOT the absence of fear… not by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, courage is the willingness to do what is necessary in the face of fear. Given the power that the wicked witch had previously shown it was actually understandable that the Lion be afraid. I can’t blame him for his intimidation. His fear wasn’t his failure. His failure was in refusing to face his fears and keep moving forward.

The “misfit” manager struggles in a similar fashion. The fear of failure becomes a restricting force, one that keeps him from making sound choices and managing from a position of anticipation and advantage. Instead of being proactive, the misfit manager is always and forever doomed to simply react. But even in those situations, they are more akin to an ostrich than a lion. They bury their head in the sand and hope that the problem will simply solve itself. They think that if they ignore the fire it will eventually burn itself out. (Yeah… like that ever happens.)

In closing, let me share a quote from the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.” During a critical part in the operation one agent asked a particularly insightful question, “How do you evaluate the risk of not doing something?” Good question. Very good question. Too often we remain incapacitated because we want 100% certainty. We want to have an absolute guarantee that our plan will not and cannot fail before we will even take the first step. The result? Nothing ever gets done. Change never takes place. Growth is never realized. And potential gains are forfeited to fear.

In time the Lion would come to grips with his fears. He would become a lion of action rather than reaction. Instead of running from the problem he would face it. And in the process of walking in courage he would help both his friends and himself achieve their goals and realize their dreams. And isn’t that the bottom line of risk? Great reward is seldom realized without some measure of risk. Safe is secure but it can also lead to stagnation and stunted growth. It doesn’t mean we throw caution and wisdom to the wind. Rather, like the Lion, we surround ourselves with trustworthy companions, take a stand for what we believe to be true, and do the thing that fear says we can’t accomplish.

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