When the Biggest Risk Is Not Taking One at All


Lou Gehrig, nicknamed the “Iron Horse” because of his batting ability and his continuity as first baseman for the New York Yankees, was a gentle, reserved man. On a hot summer day in 1930, Gehrig did something quite uncharacteristic. He stood at the plate, swung and missed for two strikes, and then watched the third pitch whiz by without even twitching. As the umpire called, “strike three…you’re out!” Lou Gehrig was seen throwing his bat to the ground and exchanging words with the ump.

Afterwards, a stunned reported asked Gehrig what he was complaining about to the umpire. Gehrig replied, “Oh…I didn’t complain; I simply told him that I would give $1,000 for a chance at that last ball again!” This provides a valuable lesson for any leader wishing to accomplish great things. Accomplishments require decision making. Relying on luck or time and chance can lead to disastrous results. Avoiding risk is sometimes the riskiest decision you can make.

Of course, we all want to make good decisions and may instinctively run away from things that can possibly cause loss, danger, or harm. We gravitate towards what we are comfortable with. But sometimes good decision-making involves stepping out of that comfort zone.

There is an old story told about two men who were in a raft drifting towards the treacherous Niagara Falls. As the story goes, they started to argue about when they should go ashore and how far away they were from the Falls. As the argument progressed and a decision was delayed, they grew nearer and nearer to the Falls. While they were plagued with indecision, the river was not, with disastrous results.

Leadership Tips for Taking Risks and Making Good Decisions

Don’t get me wrong; the point of this article isn’t to prompt you to make bad decisions and take risks with reckless abandon. Here are some tips for making good decisions:

1. Research objectively

Avoid “proof-texting,” or coming to a conclusion and then looking for evidence to support your view.

2. Go with your gut

Lean on your intuition to unconsciously make a determination based on your knowledge base, accumulated experience, ethics, and personal values.Seek advice—Consider counsel from others who have had similar experiences.

3. Build support

Find consensus (if possible) to garner support to make the decision less difficult.Avoid Heuristics—Don’t use the “rule of thumb” approach to speed up decision making. Think creatively before coming to a conclusion.

4. Don’t drop anchor

Avoid “anchoring,” or allowing the first set of facts presented to be the benchmark with which all other facts are measured. Consider all of facts objectively before making a decision.Think of Lou Gehrig the next time you make a decision. It might be time for you to take a swing instead of sitting idly by and allowing time and circumstance to strike you out. While all decisions involve risk, sometimes the biggest risk of all is not taking one.

Personal leadership and good decision-making skills go hand in hand. Are you looking to take your leadership skills to the next level? Leadership Excellence provides individual personal leadership training, leadership coaching, and organizational leadership development in Cleveland, Medina, and nationwide. Contact us to find out how we can tailor a program to get you the results you need to be a successful leader.

Image Credit: Harris & Ewing collection at the Library of Congress.