I was talking with someone the other day and he said something that stopped me in my tracks. The person is a pretty senior leader. We were talking about an initiative that he is heading up that is very important to his company’s overall strategy. There is one aspect of the work that he seemed to be hesitant about. I asked what was up and he said that while he knew this particular element was vital to their work, it was getting push back from one quarter. He said he was considering dropping because he didn’t want to “get in trouble.”
I looked him right in the eyes and said, “I have news for you. You’re too old to get in trouble. You can get fired, arrested, divorced, injured, or killed; but you can’t get in trouble. How old are you anyway? Kids get in trouble. Adults experience consequences. Let’s talk about the possible consequences.”
“I’ll get in trouble” is a lame excuse. A leader may decide not to take a particular course of action; but it shouldn’t be because “I’ll get in trouble.” It should be because a careful assessment of possible consequences leads to a reasoned decision to alter course. Part of the careful assessment of the possible consequences includes an assessment of risk to the organization, the team, and the leader. The primary question becomes, “How much risk can I tolerate?”
I’m all for self preservation. But deciding to do or not do something based upon whether or not “I’ll get in trouble” seems risk avoidant. It’s a defensive posture. Winning requires we play a little offense. Playing offense presumes risk. That’s the price of admission to leadership.
After my little rant on being too old to get in trouble we got down to strategizing a way forward. We examined the current political realities in the organization. We explored options and weighed the risks associated with each one. In the end he found a way forward which navigated the political waters and gave him (and the organization) a win.
We’re too old to get in trouble. If we are willing to accept the consequences of our actions, we should assess the situation, consider the consequences, assume the risk, and act. That’s what leaders do.