Leading in the age of danger

Posted on January 5, 2011

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I was talking to a journalist on the phone yesterday – a very rare occurrence so not I’m not being blasé about it – and she asked me whether damaged brands like the banks and BP would have trouble recruiting people. Would their damaged CSR creds mean that people would be put off working for them now that prospective employees are so interested in their potential company’s track record in this area? Fast as you like I said no. Then I wondered why I’d said no given that I have stumbled across research that states people are interested in the CSR performance of a company.

My reasoning was simple – people love a challenge; they love the idea of a turnaround. Agreed, nobody wants to join a sinking ship, but a secure business that needs to change its ways and has the chance to perform better – I think most people would join it in a shot. It’s the challenge and the thrill of the turnaround that attracts people.

Look at the psychology of danger and you’ll find that there are numerous risk takers out there in sporting, political and commercial fields that will get nothing short of arousal from the chance to enter the fray and take on a challenge. The secret to tapping into these people must be in giving them the freedom to take responsible risks – and there’s the rub! Responsible risks – it smacks of an oxymoron doesn’t it? But surely this is the challenge for businesses – get the risk takers; the thrill seekers; the dangerous sportsmen inside your business and let them play.

It reminded me of an article I’d read on Giles Davis’ blog on play and the worrying trend we see in more game players rather than game designers filling society. Business needs to attract high-worth individuals who love the challenge and are prepared to play. It then needs to create the environment where they can do just that, and then very carefully manage the risks. Leadership need to be like the lawyers in Have I Got News For You – off stage and letting the comedy flow whilst occasionally stepping in to stop the BBC from getting sued. Too many times today they are like a lawyer that has only instructed her or his client to say “no comment”.

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