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Risk Taking and Leadership in Business

by Guest Writter
Emma Sinclair

What are the skills, tendencies and inclinations that separate a good business person from a true leader? My short answer? An appetite for risk.

I IPO-d my company at 29, the youngest person in the United Kingdom to have done so. I often wonder what it is about me that gave me the confidence to contemplate doing that; the innocence of youth not explanation enough for the path I decided to tread.

I quit my job, raised money and floated a vehicle on the stock exchange with no track record, a tight personal budget and as a result of my age, a distinct lack of experience (albeit partially countered by boundless stamina and a deep, longstanding love of the stock market). Yes I had watched other people do it having worked in mergers and acquisitions but I am neither reckless nor arrogant (I hope others would agree!) so where did the skills to lead a team and building that company come from?

Firstly, humility is always important so I know my view on this is entirely subjective and I shouldn’t wish anyone to think my successes or any views I have curated on leadership have come without encountering challenges and making mistakes. It’s simply not the case and I never believe anyone who paints a rosy picture of plain sailing and profit making without admitting the glitches.

Secondly, I believe leadership is impossible without passion and integrity. People follow people. You can’t lead if no one is behind you – and whilst confidence and credibility are essential, it’s easier to lead when those traits are matched with heart and drive.

Which leads me to my third point. The dreaded R word: Risk. Taking risks is imperative. Without it, there is no reward – and I think comfort and acceptance with this is one of, if not the defining characteristic, of a leader.

I am often stunned at how risk is misconstrued and perceived as being the other dreaded R word: Reckless. When the unexpected occurs, a leader instinctively knows how to react. Gut instinct – and trusting that gut instinct– is crucial. Leadership requires ingenuity, the ability to look at things differently and an acceptance that rigidity and always ‘sticking to a plan’ stifles opportunity.

An aversion to this and an inclination to always study historic performance as a means of assessing the future dulls innovation. Without risk, where is the platform for growth, where is the entrepreneurialism and creative thinking?

Fourth and finally, the quality of a network doesn’t create a leader but I’ve never known a leader who hasn’t naturally built an enviable collection of peers. Often cited as the number one unwritten rule of success of business, networks must consist of people both within and outside of a company, sector, social circle and demographic.

I despair of people who think that only mingling in circles of people they already know – people who look like them, went to the same college or are members of the same club – will create a meaningful and powerful set of connections.

Never ignore the value of social networking. Whether it is LinkedIn.com, EnterpriseJungle.com or Twitter.com – or all of the above – they all have their place and provide access and leverage. Networking that does not replace old fashioned conversation – but better facilitates. Join them. Clever technology and intelligent connections often smooth the path to a critical physical interaction.

Work has to be about your passion – not your pension. About growing – not stagnating. About innovation – not insulation. So I counsel people to recognise that when required, risk thrills, excites and drives every leader I know – and whoever that leader is leading. And risk is not – contrary to popular belief – a dirty word. As is often said, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. And that, in my books, isn’t good enough.


About the Author

Emma Sinclair is a serial entrepreneur and the youngest person in the UK to take a company public on the stock exchange, having done so at 29. An ex-investment banker and recipient of multiple business awards, she has a diverse portfolio of interests. She founded Target Parking, a car park operator and facilities management service provider.  A mentor within the start-up community, she has a tech start up of her own having co-founded EnterpriseJungle, a social application that helps individuals become more successful and organisations more agile. Intuitively and proactively connecting people whose current projects, industries, location, influence, and aspirations align, EnterpriseJungle helps build effective and meaningful relationships that drive more efficient business results and introduces users to people they should already know.

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