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Sales Leadership
What Kind of Risk-taker Are You?
Mar 28, 2016 | Roz Usherhoff lock

When I was getting my start in the business world, our department was run by a kindly boss whose descriptors might well have been “gentle” and “forgiving.” However, he was nobody’s fool and, despite his demeanour, he pulled no punches when people failed to meet his high standards.

One day, he called together all the managers and supervisors to his office for a chat after one member of the department had let an opportunity slip between their fingers. He then talked about taking risks.

Omission vs. Commission
“There are two kinds of risks one can take in this company,” he said, “risks of commission and risks of omission.  Risks of commission occur when you make a bold and decisive stroke that may benefit the company and may in fact further your career. Risks of omission occur when, for whatever reason, you let an opportunity slip by failing to act upon it in a timely manner. This company would rather you take risks of commission and fail, rather than fail by omitting to undertake the risk of failure.”

For me, his words came as a revelation, and even now, whenever the paper piles up and the detail work becomes overwhelming, I remember his words almost as an epiphany, and they give me the focus and direction to take the decision to move forward.

Read the Writing on the Wall The corporate world of decision-making is composed of complex and conflicting variables, however small, that can affect the outcome of the marketing plan, the sales figures and the direction and well-being of the company. Take Kodak, for example. Despite the advent of the digital camera age, Kodak stood pat, thinking it would sell enough film and chemicals to offset consumers switching to digital cameras. Big mistake. While the company is back on track, it took a number of years to recover from its mistake of omission.

So what lessons do we learn from this?

Trust your Instincts
Don’t wait for complete certainty on an issue before making a decision; it often arrives too late if it arrives at all. Better that you act on clarity. Once you get a good idea, don’t incubate it, act on it. Work to make it happen.

I once coached an ambitious mid-level executive who had her sights set on the C-suite, and had taken a position in her company outside her area of expertise to increase her experience base and prove that she had what it takes to be senior management. This caused her a great deal of stress, as you can well imagine. Her fish-out-of-water inexperience produced sleepless nights, frayed nerves, and finally, complete and utter paralysis.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
I recognized the corner she had painted herself into, indecision from lacking experience in some areas, and not having the courage to tough it out and ask for help for fear it would diminish her in the eyes of her bosses. A truly self-defeating strategy that could only end badly.

I am reminded of Lee Iaccoca in his Chrysler days who discovered that one of his employees had ordered the wrong bolt for a car model, a mistake that would cost the company more than a million dollars. The following day, he came into Iacocca’s office and tendered his resignation.  Iaccoca refused to accept it, saying there was no way he would accept the resignation after having just spent more than a million dollars in training.

 My advice to you is:

Unleash positive energy
First of all, fear, stress and risk-taking can be your friend, not your enemy, as long as they unleash positive energy.

Anticipate and Act
Second, not to make a decision is actually making a negative decision. When hockey great Wayne Gretzky was in his prime, he had the extraordinary skill of knowing what would happen next. People said that Gretzky never followed the puck, but went to the place where he knew the puck would be next. As his career shows, he was rarely wrong.

Learn from failure
Third, the most important lessons we learn in life are those that result from failure. People are very forgiving, as long as you always try to be your best and act with integrity.

Be Realistic
And finally, while one’s dreams and ambitions may look good on paper, the working world does not play on paper; it plays on the field of life.

About the Author:

Roz Usherhoff founder of The Usherhoff Institute has gained an international reputation for helping others achieve results. She is skilled at executive coaching, management development, sales training, and individual consulting. She can be reached at (800) 844-2206 or via email at Email:

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