What RISK taught me about leadership

I grew up playing the game RISK – and learning strategies to succeed at global domination. My dad is a master at this game and I spent a lot of time getting wiped out. However, the memories are very good and I have continued my RISK playing into my adult years and passed it on to my son who is already quite good. Just the other day, I happened to be playing on an app and realized that much of how I play risk relates to truths that I hold about leadership.

Don’t get spread too thin. There is a tendency among beginning players to attack constantly on their turn and take over countries until they are not able to continue. While it looks great to have your color markers filling up many countries, if they don’t have reinforcements, your advances quickly turn into retreats. In leadership, this is a crucial tenet. Learn what you are good at, focus on those few things, and learn how to say “no” to distractions, no matter how good or beneficial they might seem. A leader who becomes spread too thin becomes of little value to anybody. They are emotionally and physically distant, no longer excellent at anything, and typically demand the same widespread busyness of those they lead. This is a sure-fire recipe for disastrous leadership.

Take your small steps with the big picture in mind. When I am looking at which country to attack next, I have two main goals to consider. Does this victory expand my territory in a way that is sustainable, or is this victory simply a way to earn cards which will increase my armies? As a leader, every day is filled with potential small steps to take. I must ask myself if these steps will continue to invest in the big picture goals I have or are these steps simply busy work? Granted, some busy work simply needs to be done, such as responding to emails and logging account expenses, but it should be kept at a minimum so that your energy goes in the direction of the greatest good.

Fortify and strengthen where you are weak! It does no good for me to have armies that are not on the front line of battle. I must constantly fortify my positions and strengthen armies that are under threat. As a leader, I don’t have all of the answers, I don’t have all of the skills, and I don’t have all of the experience necessary to accomplish the vast majority of my goals. And I shouldn’t!!! Collaborative teams are a key to success and valuable team members provide the strength and fortification by bringing their own skills and experiences to the table. Lean on others…actually, you might want to consider getting completely out of their way and watching just how amazing your team actually is. Share the vision, share the struggle, and share the praise when the team earns a victory.

Be decisive when it’s time to go! Once I have my plan and armies in place, I need to engage in battle and fight until it’s over. Stopping in the middle of a battle guarantees that I am defeated. Your team is looking to you for guidance and strategy, but most often they need confidence. Confidence that you are all in! Confidence that you have their back! Confidence that you will see the task/project through to completion!

Be flexible when the tide begins to turn. I can’t tell you how many times my plan has been to conquer all of Australia only to see my armies become decimated and my strategy move to South America out of desperation. When it becomes clear that my original plan is heading to failure, I can either ride it all the way to ruin or I can make a mid-course correction and strive for victory yet again. This applies to my personal life, to project management, and even to the coaching process with individuals. While the maxim “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” holds true, when something is truly broken it is our job as leaders to fix it. Be flexible, be open to options, listen to the suggestions of valued team members, and then do what you need to in order for success to happen!

While you may never play risk or dream of global domination, I am sure that you desire to be an effective and successful leader. Have a dream, build your plan, enlist your team, and lead your organization to victory. The feeling of success is sweet indeed!

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