Increasingly, we’ve been hearing from business and community leaders, clients, and participants in the Expedition Program about the risks they are noticing around them. Whether they are concerned about the economy, industry changes, personal growth, or something else entirely, more and more people are becoming mindful of risk, for themselves and their organizations or businesses. Often, they have plans in place to proactively mitigate risk, but we want to challenge them to go deeper.
Risks are often unknowns, but embracing the unknown can lead to new outcomes and new possibilities. Instead of focusing solely on the potential downsides of risks, how can they think about the upsides? By reframing risk as opportunity and applying other principles of Exploratory Leadership, you can more clearly navigate the unknown, motivate others, adapt to your surroundings, and thrive in uncertainty.
The Risks You May Face
From economic downtowns and supply chain barriers to public health risks and personal investments going unreturned, everyone faces risks. The potential risks in the world are innumerable, so for the sake of clarity, we will focus on individual risk, organizational risk, and industry risk. Understanding these examples of risks you may face will help you identify them and others when they occur, begin to plan for them, and reframe them as opportunities.
- Individual. Individuals often face risks in their daily lives related to their personal actions, the actions of those around them, and the ways they interact with the world around them. Many individual risks are out of our control, such as how others drive during our commutes creating accident risks or investing in the stock market creating financial risk, but many are within our control. Pursuing new employment opportunities presents a risk, as does investing in your own personal development and growth, such as through a leadership program.
- Organizational. While organizational leaders and business owners are always mindful of the economy, factors that are out of our control have recently been impacting the market. From COVID to shipping delays and supply chain disruptions to the ongoing labor shortage, organizations of all types are facing economic uncertainty, which poses a variety of risks related to profitability, sales, and opportunities to do mission-driven work. Businesses also face risks related to their products, such as rising production costs or new competitors, their operations, such as rising costs of rent or utilities, and more; nonprofits and other social or civic organizations face similar operational uncertainties as those above, while also facing uncertainties in funding, opportunities to share their work, audience changes, and more.
- Industry. Industries as a whole face risks, largely dependent on external factors, like public health or changes to technology. For example, changing public health guidelines could impact the events industry and how events are hosted and attended, which could present a risk if the industry were unable or unwilling to adapt. Industries are often impacted by changing technologies, and must balance the risk of adaptation with the risk of stagnation.
How Can a Risk Be an Opportunity?
Risk is part of life. However, that does not mean that you need to shy away from risk, or work to remove risk from everything you do. All these actions focus too closely on risk as a downside, which prevents you from seeing the bigger picture and asking yourself, “what opportunity will emerge from this moment?”
One Exploratory Leader who we feel embodies this practice is Ryan Holiday, who is a bestselling author and media strategist. Holiday pushes himself and those around him to see opportunities where others see obstacles. Like with risk, obstacles can be viewed as opportunities to improve, grow, and discover new possibility.
Holiday encourages us to strengthen our problem solving and thinking like we would strengthen any other muscle, and that requires thinking creatively and reframing how we view certain situations. This practice allows us to control the outcomes of the events that we participate in, because it allows us to choose how we will define success. We call it reframing risk as opportunity, Holiday calls it seeing opportunities where other see obstacles, but no matter how you frame it, the practice remains the same. Take a situation that is unknown, and grow through it.
We’ve provided a chart to help demonstrate how various risks can be viewed as opportunities with the right mindset, so you can take this abstract concept and bring it to life.
|An economic downturn or recession could negatively impact organizational operations and profitability.||Refining operations and streamlining where possible can protect the business and ensure long-term growth and prosperity, regardless of economic impacts in the future|
|A challenging hiring environment makes finding and retaining team members challenging.||Being intentional about organizational culture and organizational design and processes opens the door for improvements and innovations that can energize your existing team and set your business apart for potential employees.|
|Public health guidelines changing often could reduce the amount of in-person collaboration across the team.||Adapting to online and hybrid meetings can allow team members more flexibility to work however works best for them, open the door for talented remote workers, and create new opportunities for you to rethink collaboration.|
|Supply chain barriers and shipping delays could lengthen the time a customer has to wait for a product, which could upset them.||Communicating about delays can give you the opportunity to engage more deeply with customers, which could crystallize their loyalty and give them the opportunity to provide feedback that improves organizational operations.|
|Making an investment in a leadership program could be an expense that is not recuperated.||Investing in yourself and your growth can teach you new skills that can be applied to your personal and professional life; you can learn new things about yourself and find more contentment.|
|Current events and ongoing challenges could lead to burnout and disengagement.||Noticing that you are feeling burnt out can be an opportunity for you to reassess your purpose, your goals, and what brings you satisfaction, so you can realign your actions with your vision for your life.|
Reframing Risk as Opportunity
Risks are often uncomfortable because they are associated with the unknown, so many people avoid them. However, if you are able to embrace the unknown, you will be more equipped to navigate it, which will allow you to discover more opportunities and be more successful in the long run. The principles of Exploratory Leadership, paired with other tactics for changing your mindset, can support you as you figure out how, exactly, you can begin to change your thinking to reframe risks.
- Accept Risk. Eliminating all risks is not and will never be possible; when we accept the presence of risk in our lives, we can navigate it accordingly, rather than allow it to rule our decision making.
- Renew Your Purpose. Being aware of your purpose will allow you to make decisions that support it, feel energized, and focus on essentials. Not every opportunity is right at every moment, and aligning your decision-making process to your purpose will guide you as you choose which opportunities to pursue.
- Focus On What You Control. Too often, we spend time and energy on things we have no control over. Rather than focusing on what is out of your control, focus on what you can control. By prioritizing the areas where you can have an impact, you make better use of your time and energy.
- Change Your Mindset. Stories come from the words we choose. How we think of and talk about the world around us, including risk, impacts how we move forward. You may be inadvertently telling yourself a negative story about risk. Rewriting that story to view risk as opportunity can help rewire your thinking and achieve new outcomes.
- Declared Action. Declared action allows you to build and maintain momentum by making commitments to yourself and those around you. Understanding what action you can take to adjust to risks and opportunities will keep you motivated to follow through.
- Utilize Your Current Means. Embrace asset-based thinking by focusing on what you already have and taking advantage of it, rather than focusing on what you lack or believe you need. People often fall into the trap of chasing what they believe they need, and in the process, they fail to make the best use of what’s already available to them.
- Leverage Learning Communities and Peer Support. Collaboration can lead to better outcomes, and asking for guidance from others can be beneficial. Whether you take advantage of a peer advisory group or simply call up a trusted friend to act as an advisor, having an outside observer provide insight can give you a new perspective on the opportunities that are present and how to move forward.
Get Started Embracing Risk
Embracing the unknown means embracing risk. When you break down your life into categories of risk, like individual, organizational, and industry, you are better prepared to think critically about how risk can become opportunity. Using the principles of Exploratory Leadership, you can embrace the unknown and navigate through it to achieve better outcomes, discover new possibility, and motivate those around you to do the same.
Interested in learning more? Our Expedition Program will teach you and a cohort of peers the seven proven principles of Exploratory Leadership across 12 weeks — and connect you with a learning community you can collaborate with. For more information and to apply, visit our website.
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