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Playing it safe does not mean taking no risks

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger
Insight like inspiration can come from surprising places. Recently it was the headline in the sports section of a French news paper that got me thinking. The headline was Le Jeu Prudent. I looked it up it means The Safe Play. The article was an analysis of the England manager’s leadership philosophy in view of the team’s progress in the Euros. In short the piece argued that playing it safe did not mean taking no risks, it did mean sticking to the plan , no radical shifts or change of direction in response to criticism or the doubters, a cautious approach which sometimes involved reining in the tendencies of the more talented and more adventurous members of the team. 
 
What’s interesting about this from a management/leadership perspective is that even before the pandemic the talk was of transformation of organisations, the need to respond quickly to a fast changing environment. Post pandemic the view is that the pace of change has moved up several gears and by implication leaders need to be bold and radical, injecting a sense of urgency into the organisation’s change agenda. And yet here we have a very high profile manager enjoying success by doing the opposite and playing it safe. 
The irony of this is that most senior managers , most business or organisation leaders and most board members instinctively have always favoured those who play it safe. I have frequently heard the executive recruiters told that the brief is to find “a safe pair of hands”. By which the board mean , we recognise the need to move with the times. We want someone who can manage a smooth transition.  We want to avoid controversy and negative publicity. We want a cautious approach not a reckless risk taker.  We want someone we can trust to do and say the right thing. 

So maybe there is a case to be made for playing it safe, no sudden radical shifts in direction simply because there are those who want a more adventures approach with the risks this entails or those who argue for radical change because they are frustrated at the slow unspectacular progress. The aim is a slow Revolution rather than a frequent Revolution. Put another way to ensure a smooth transition the leader sometimes needs to apply the hand break or as the French say Le Jeu Prudent. 

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