5 Risks of Being a Leader

The 21st century is teeming with great influential leaders. They’re household names: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. But what do these names have in common besides their booming success? They all took the risks of being a leader upon themselves.

Becoming a thriving leader means stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking on new risks. Simply put, risk is exposure to harm. As a leader, the risks are plentiful. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Here are five risks of being a leader:

The Risk of Physical Harm

According to every active shooter training session I have ever attended, the person most likely to cause harm in the workplace is a former disgruntled employee. If you are a leader responsible for a person’s discontent, you are likely a target of workplace violence. Leaders who deal with disgruntled employees are responsible for ensuring that proper security measures are in place for their homes, their offices and their employees. Training must focus on active shooter scenarios to help minimize the dangers and increase awareness.

The Risk of Financial Harm

In public service, it is usually taxpayer money you are handling instead of your own. However, as a leader, your own personal finances can be at risk. A single accusation of misuse or discrimination, especially if you deal with the public in your job, can make or break your career and put your personal finances at risk. Many public service leaders purchase federal liability insurance to help mitigate this risk.

The Risk of Reputation Loss

Leadership is actually a lot like politics. You can be crucified in the media, particularly on social media, just for expressing your personal opinion with little or no chance to defend yourself. Character assassination is common and is usually instigated by someone who is jealous of you, angry at you or simply has too much time on their hands. Control your response by refusing to lower yourself to the same level. You must be prepared to let it go and move on.

The Risk of Failure

Many great leaders experience failure prior to exhibiting greatness. Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” As long as you view failure as an opportunity for growth, failure can be a positive experience. As a leader, you must be prepared to take calculated risks after weighing the advantages and disadvantages of any of the choices you make. Don’t be afraid of failure. Instead, learn to manage your fear so you can learn from it.

The Risk of Accountability

The higher you rise in an organization, the more you are at risk. If something goes wrong, stakeholders look for the highest level leader to hold accountable. In today’s current federal workplace, there is an increased interest in accountability. One mistake can cost you everything. You must be prepared to hold yourself accountable for your actions and the actions of your employees. To minimize risk, stay engaged with your employees so you know what’s going on at any given moment.

Final Thoughts

Leadership comes with many risks, such as the possibility of physical harm, financial harm, reputation loss, failure and accountability, but these risks can be mitigated. While there are many good reasons to shy away from taking on a leadership role, the world still needs more great leaders. It’s what you can learn from taking on these risks that will ensure that the world of tomorrow still has great leaders.

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Sherrie P. Mitchell is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Catherine Andrews

Great post. It might be interesting to have you write another post on what leaders can do to further mitigate these risks as they move up in their careers.

Laura Wilcox

I agree completely! This is an excellent post, and I’d love to read more about managing these risks as you climb the government ladder.