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10 Building Blocks for Risk Leaders (Part 5)

Important things in life are not easily reduced to 10 steps. Nevertheless, this series provides a list of 10 building blocks to achieving long-term success in risk management from someone who has spent more than 25 years striving to carve out the most satisfying career possible, while never losing sight of the attributes attached to the bigger picture. Part 1 is here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here. This is the fifth and final part.

9. Advance the Profession by Finding or Creating Personal Vision

The concept of innovation is directly and explicitly tied to risk and risk management. Put simply, there is no innovation without risk. Part of this paradigm is taking personal risk to move the discipline forward to places others may not have imagined. In the realm of risk management, settling for the status quo is to be avoided at all costs . Nothing stays the same for long, and a core competency of a true risk leader is having the gumption to push back on owners, which sometimes means questioning authority.

Just as the overall business environment is ever-evolving, the myriad internal and external drivers that can affect the risk profile of organizations must be carefully monitored. It is in this monitoring where the willingness to challenge conventional thinking and the status quo can lead to change, and risk-taking behaviors can be shifted to be more in line with risk appetite and tolerances. A vision for more innovative processes, tools and techniques can be developed, as well as an enhanced view into the murk of risk itself. Importantly, this demonstration of risk leadership will lead to the evolution of risk leaders’ personal vision for more effective risk management for their organizations.

If we haven’t learned anything else since that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve learned that new risks emerge with increasing regularity and seem to have increasing relevance to enterprise success. Furthermore, these new and emerging risks often fall into the strategic category, so they are often not easily measured or mitigated. All this speaks to the need for continuous improvement and innovation in how risk management is practiced and how it affects the design and execution of the organization’s risk framework and model. While personal vision for risk management is necessary — for personal satisfaction and the long-term success of the firm — no two frameworks or models are exactly alike, just as no two firm risk profiles are identical.

By crafting risk strategy, framework and model around the continuously evolving needs of the firm, risk leaders’ vision for risk management will take shape. As it is successfully implemented, this vision will also drive the risk profession forward, through benchmarking, networking and professional external collaborations, allowing all risk practitioners to improve, as well. This is the perfect segue to the last element of a personal risk leader success profile.

10. Give Back

Giving back to the next generation and to communities and nonprofit organizations (some of which can’t afford the cost of risk expertise, e.g., churches and civic organizations) is essential to developing a well-rounded leader and person. But giving back goes well beyond even service to the community and to nonprofits. In the larger context, giving back includes various strategies to help others. Examples include employing interns on a regular basis and taking the time to coach and mentor them well. Too often, intern programs are mismanaged or even abused as sources of raw labor out of which no real development or education occurs. This destroys the attraction to enter the risk profession. Because these programs—done well—can be the source of exceptional talent, it behooves all risk leaders to take advantage of intern sourcing when feasible and include it as a key component of long-term resource planning.

Giving back is also accomplished by bringing the risk leaders’ considerable knowledge to various forums, such as at conferences and industry meetings, through presentations and participation in efforts to discover new solutions to problems. While the primary goal should be to help others, it almost always includes mutual benefit. Many of my colleagues say they actually get more out of this effort than they put in. That has certainly been true for me.

Another example of giving back is the Spencer Educational Foundation’s Risk Manager in Residence Program. This program provides funding for risk experts to bring that expertise into higher educational institutions through a series of lectures and teaching done with the collaboration of selected professors whose goal is to bring diverse experiential learning to students pursuing risk and insurance degrees. This program has been instrumental in highlighting for students the opportunities available in the risk discipline.

There are many opportunities to serve other organizations through volunteer board and advisory positions, where risk experience and expertise is made available to help these organizations, particularly with risk governance. A residual benefit of this activity is broadening the network of contacts and relationships outside the industry, where a clear demand for risk expertise is almost always needed, but infrequently recognized or acted upon.

Last, but certainly not least, is the ever-present opportunity to mentor and coach others to help them achieve their career goals. This is a fundamental responsibility of every manager of people. But it really gains traction with others when those outside the immediate work circle ask for mentoring or coaching, as they recognize and value the deep and broad expertise they can learn via a mentoring program. Usually accompanying that is a keen understanding of the political, social and cultural aspects of work life that those with less experience often find challenging to navigate. One benefit of this activity is a deep and lasting gratitude that is too infrequent in day-to-day business interactions. The related personal satisfaction is often immeasurable and certainly lasting. Personal brands are enhanced, and those being mentored can close the loop on what a true risk leader profile looks like.

Conclusion

There you have it—my list of 10 building blocks for long-term success in risk management. All functions need great leaders to achieve high performance, and risk leaders have more than their share of hurdles to overcome in the process. And yet, those who stick their necks out and take the personal risk associated with doing extraordinary things often succeed in doing so. I urge you to think big about the possibilities of a career in risk and consider these 10 important things that can help define the correct path to take.

After all, no risk, no reward.