Risk or recklessness in goal setting

Do you take risks or are you reckless? When does taking a risk become recklessness? At the Challenging Coaching workshop on 14th March there was an interesting discussion around the subject of Courageous Goals and risk and recklessness.

In the presence of a Courageous Goal the following feelings are likely to be experienced:

  • Excitement
  • Adventure
  • Pride
  • Inspiration
  • Imagination
  • Wonder

These energetic positive feelings are accompanied by negative inhibiting feelings of fear around risk taking. The achievement of a courageous goal requires taking a risk by stepping outside an individual’s comfort zone. When stepping into the unknown there is the possibility that something unpleasant will happen. The possibility of achieving something great, a life long dream, is tempered by the risk of failure and loss. However, to achieve the courageous goal we must accept the risk. Through the support and challenge of a coach, for example, the risk of failure can be acknowledged, accepted and managed. Taking a risk is a prerequisite of achieving a Courageous Goal.

tightRope picture for blog 15 march 2014

However, how do we know if we are taking a risk or being reckless? Recklessness is  the deliberate or unintentional failure to think about the consequences of an action. For example, immediately before the financial crash, large financial institutions were reckless in selling sub-prime mortgages based on the unrealistic theory that housing prices would continue to escalate. This theory went against all of the historical evidence of house price trends and the natural cyclical nature of the market.  This was accompanied by mortgage lenders  selling on liabilities, and short-term gains being prioritised over the long term in a poorly regulated market. Many official investigations into the causes of the financial crisis reported that it was avoidable. The was a failure to consider the consequences of actions, and so there was clear recklessness.

There is a difference between risk and recklessness. But in many areas the two seem to be confused and considered the same thing. As we grow as people, in schools, in business and organisations, risk is often seen as a bad thing. Risk must be avoided and we must protect ourselves. However, risk is necessary for any change, without risk there can be no creativity, we would not take a chance on something new that could make a significant difference. Without risk the status quo would remain unchallenged.

So when considering a courageous goal, risks can be assessed, but not in a way to create unnecessary fear or prevent action. Risks are recognised, acknowledged, considered, and  action taken. A coach can ask a coachee to think deeply about the possible long term consequences of actions and possible perceptions of absent stakeholders. Once there is commitment to ‘walk the line’ towards achieving the courageous goal, steps along the way are monitored and reviewed; “Am I walking in the right direction towards my courageous goal?”, “are the results of my actions what I anticipated?”, “what is the feedback from stakeholders”, “are short-term wins at the expense of my long term ultimate courageous goal?”

So recklessness can be avoided by actively considering consequences, involving stakeholders, and monitoring progress. Risk is not recklessly gambling on the future. Risk is considered actions towards achieving a courageous goal.

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