It’s been a decade since Paul, the head of the Physical Education Department of our children’s high school, asked if I would be willing to speak to the new leadership classes they had created in his department. Naperville Central High School’s PE Department was in the midst of becoming known, nationally, under Paul’s leadership. His request was a bit of a risk from a lot of angles. By that time, I’d given hundreds of presentations on leadership to corporate executives and college students … but not to high school students. I have stood in awe of speaker friends such as John Crudele, who has spoken with incredible impact, from coast to coast, to millions of high school students.
The bigger risk was this being my own children’s high school … not some remote high school on the other side of the country where my children would never know exactly how it went. You get the picture! I also got the feeling Paul wasn’t asking me to speak just one time … but to return each semester as part of the flow of the curriculum. This raised the ante because it meant there was a very good (or bad) chance my own children (about the time they would be 15) would be sitting in that class during some future semester … with their friends around them.
This was a risk!
Yet as a parent, as a member of our great community, and as one with great respect for what Paul was trying to create … I thought I should, at least, further explore Paul’s request. With leadership being a broad topic, I asked Paul if he had a specific focus he wanted me to cover in the 50-minute class. He was way ahead of me. He noted that in the days following my presentation, the students would experience the high-ropes course. Paul said, “It would be great if you could talk about the importance of leaders taking risks.” I immediately felt the irony!
I was defenseless from Paul’s contagious enthusiasm and committed to move forward … sensing I should take the risk and rise to the occasion. I figured, if I didn’t make a connection with these high school students, I wouldn’t be asked back … and spare my own children humiliation in their own classroom! Close to twenty semesters later, it must work at some level. My kids survived their dad in front of the room and graduated long ago. And, each semester, three back-to-back 50-minute classes still hear about the importance of a leader embracing a healthy sense of risk. We talk about the innate neutral nature of risk itself and how to discern between good risks and bad risks. All leaders must embrace the responsibility of assuming some level of responsible risk. We all do.
While risk, itself, isn’t the focus of my content in the marketplace … it’s seems to be the essence of it! For whatever reason, a lot of executives come at core values as if it’s a bit counter-cultural in the marketplace. This intuitively engages some element of risk. Embracing core values and leading from that core may be viewed to be a good risk, but nonetheless … viewed as a risk. I am certain leaders need to assume this risk.
I have, however, come to believe there is a greater risk lurking. As I was completing the manuscript for my upcoming book, ROI: Return on Integrity, I noticed a bit of a twist on the need for leaders to assume risk. A very different kind of risk.
It’s the risk of making assumptions.
Recently, Mark Elfstrand, a radio personality and good friend, asked me to join him on-air each Monday afternoon for a 10-week fifteen minute feature on building value with core values.* We wrapped-up that series this past week. In our closing session, we discussed one of the greatest challenges I face in inspiring a movement for CEOs to embrace core values as the most untapped and impactful resource at their disposal. Mark basically asked, “when it comes to CEOs, who are the ones you worry about most?”
You might think it would be CEOs who write-off core values as simply the soft stuff. That is problematic … but not the most dangerous. There is a much larger group … and the greater risk is the lost potential.
My answer to Mark described this group … those who think they value values, but don’t really lead with them. In other words, they make an assumption the a values foundation is already in place. In most case, just a few questions can begin to reveal the flaw in their assumption. While their valuing core values is often very real … they have not pursued the depth required , personally or organizationally, to make those values real. They just assume, once established, they will automatically bring value.
The risk of assumption is very real.
This is why we often perceive bad things happening to good people … to good leaders. They are, in fact, very good. But their assumption creates a really bad risk.
Believing values are valuable is one thing. Completely acting on those beliefs is another whole story … it is a story that comes with its own risk, yet with enormous potential. Values aren’t valuable on their own. They are valuable when we take ownership for them and … lead others to do the same.
It’s about moving from the unknown bad risk of assumptions to the known good risk of intentional values.
* Click here to listen to the podcasts of Mark Elfstrand’s 10 live fifteen-minute weekly radio interview segments with John. The first interview was recorded on January 5, 2015, for nine Mondays in a row (just pick each Monday date starting with January 5th) and then concluded on Monday, March 23rd. Simply scroll below Mark’s bio and see each program by date. Click the appropriate date and then click on the “sound wave bar” to join the program about 10-15 minutes into that program.