It's easy to view leadership with rose-colored glasses, to envision the accolades and respect that comes with authority. However, from the beginning of modern business, the pressures associated with positions of power have been underscored over and over again, giving birth to idioms and adages like "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." The story of the Sword of Damocles perfectly illustrates the dichotomy of power, how it is viewed and what it actually entails. In the story, Damocles mentions to the king how wonderful it must be to hold such a lofty office. To teach Damocles the true nature of leadership, the king allows him to take his place at the throne. As Damocles sits on the throne, he notices a sword hanging above his head, held by a single horse's hair, revealing the true double-edged nature of leadership, "With great power comes great responsibility." The risk of failure accompanies the pursuit of success in any venture, and it's up to the champion of the business to take ownership and to drive innovation.
But, what does it mean to truly take ownership?
Get Out of that Comfort Zone
It's easy to generate ideas if the topic is in your wheelhouse, and it's just as easy to work on solutions to a problem you've encountered before. One of the crucial roles of any champion, visionary, or chief innovation officer is motivating others to push outside of their comfort zones, to take on tasks or adopt different methods that may be unfamiliar or even daunting. The importance of this can't be reemphasized enough, as it provides opportunities to tackle issues from unconventional vantage points that may produce solutions; a necessary ingredient in innovation. The task of incentivizing others is no easy task, and certain considerations need to be taken in order to fulfill the aforementioned task you must see the potential application of a team member's skill set and experience to recognizing the blind spots associated with respective comfort zones. No easy feat, but growth can't come from maintaining the static status quo.
The Dreaded R Word
Risk-taking is one of those things that sounds easier than it is to practice. The plethora of success stories that have embedded itself into the mythos of big-name companies have certainly contributed to this concept: the genius who pursues an idea that has never been undertaken before and is able to reap the considerable benefits after, the startup company that began in a friend's basement and within three years, has taken over most of the market share in its industry, or the project that took 100 failures to find success, making the entire process worth it. And while businesses will always strive for success, dreaming of becoming the next Apple, the prospect of failing at a new venture can often give pause, if not discourage risk-taking entirely. That's why it's up to the champion to take ownership by calculating the associated risks with the projected benefits, and decisively directing his or her team to move forward with a course of action. There are very real consequences to risk-taking, and the champion needs to tote the fine line between unflagging determination and clear pragmatism. It is also crucial for the champion to convey the risk profile of a venture to the team with complete transparency while maintaining the bigger picture.
Gleaning from Failure
At one point or another, everyone has heard some variation of the following saying: "The true measure of one's character is measured in failures." Though failure is never the optimal result of any business venture, it's important for companies to have a management process that is involved with risk-taking, but without negating the team's contributions and efforts. Beyond the questions of how and why, questions of what can be learned from the failed venture can open up new possibilities and opportunities.
Remember: Failure is a learning experience.
For more information on the place of Risk and Ownership in your business, be sure to review Robert's Rules of Innovation. And don't miss out on the forthcoming Robert's Rules of Innovation, Volume II "The Art of Implementation".