While reflecting during a recent Daily Deliberation, I was really thinking about the Air Force’s view on risk. Our Risk Management (RM) teachings are very good and offer an easy 5-step framework on how to avoid unnecessary risks, but never how to embrace risks. We have to change our mindset that all risk is bad.

The Air Force reg on Risk Management (AFI 90-802) discusses what RM is and isn’t. RM is intended to enhance safety and avoid occupational or environmental risks. This is vital to those with the boots on the ground. When we are faced with a new situation on the flightline or some other worksite, the 5-step RM process is a great tool. However, when you get into a leadership role, it is rare we will personally face similar situations.

When leaders face new things, they are not typically hazards; rather, they are are choices. “Do I let Amn X go to this training class and lose him for a week?”; “Do I allocate funds from our budget to purchase XXX?”; “Do I give SSgt X some duty time to try and fix this problem she highlighted?” These choices all have risks attached to them. If they fail, we have to answer for them. If they succeed, the team wins.

As leaders, we need to look at choices as opportunities…not as risks. Each new opportunity could be good or bad, but most of the time we are not sure. When I started this site, I saw an opportunity to share lessons learned. That could have gone poorly as many on here are people I know personally and respect highly. However, I asked myself 3 questions. These are the same 3 questions I ask those who bring ideas or “opportunities” to me in my work center:

1) What problem is this going to solve? If this does not make life better in some way, why waste our time on it.

2) What is the long term effect? We need to examine the second and third order effects of this. It might be great to create some report that is easy to read for the boss, but if it creates 100’s of man-hours each week to do, that is something to think through more. Not that these ideas are bad, but if we don’t help pick at the idea a bit to uncover any holes, a real solution may be missed.

3) Is it sustainable? In almost every work center I have ever been in, someone has created an amazing Microsoft Access product that solves some problem for the masses. And. Then. They. PCS. And only about 5 people in the Air Force know how to work Access and this product can’t be sustained when some change comes down. I like to look at the proposed solution and see if it is only viable right now, because this office or person has a lull in the mission and has some free time that is not normally there. Will this be a bear to manage when ops tempo returns to normal?

RM teaches us to avoid risk and fear of failure before an EPR reinforces this. If we don’t take risks for our teams and run from opportunities, we will never advance our organizations. New opportunities are risky, but using the 3 questions above will help you as a leader to navigate the way.

How do you handle risk as a leader?