How to Become a High-Stakes Leader

Become a High-Stakes Leader

When the stakes are high, that’s when we need the very best in leadership. Why do some leaders succeed and others fail? Why do some not only survive a crisis, but use difficulty to produce incredible results?

These questions are tackled by Constance Dierickx, PhD in her new book, HIGH-STAKES LEADERSHIP: Leading Through Crisis with Courage, Judgment and Fortitude. She shares how to lead with the type of courage that makes you stand out.

I recently asked her to share her insights on high-stakes leadership.


“Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.” -Aristotle


What do you mean by High-Stakes leadership?

A high-stakes leader is someone who is successful when risk is high and visibility is low.  New ventures are an example, whether they are for a new product, service, geography or method of production. Top leader changes, mergers and crisis are also examples of high-stakes situations.

Leaders who get good results achieve value on multiple fronts. As Jim Kennedy, Chairman of Cox Enterprises says, “It can’t be just about the money.” In a crisis, we need only compare the recent leadership failure at Equifax with the response of The Home Depot in a similar circumstance, a breach. The response of these two companies was wildly different. Frank Blake’s actions are a model of what to do.

My book talks about what leaders in high-stakes situations should do and provides examples from a wide range of organizations. I also talk about what gets in the way of leaders. Invisible traps include the human cognitive system, which is not a completely rational system. Our human limits lead us to make mistakes that may look foolish but can be the result of cognitive limits, the effect of emotion on decisions, the context or our own habits of avoiding anxiety.

There is an additional factor, which I include in my forthcoming book Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, in which I focus on mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. That is when we wrongly assign value to opportunities, risk, timelines, market size, and so forth. It’s one thing to think something is low risk and be right and quite another to believe risk is low when it isn’t. Even smart people can be blind when making evaluations, a part of leading. We don’t have measures for everything, and even when we do we aren’t always measuring what matters.

Perhaps the greatest risk of all is in thinking we are operating in a safe zone and being complacent.


“The greatest risk of all is in thinking we are operating in a safe zone.” -Constance Dierickx

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe


It All Starts With Safety

Author and speaker Simon Sinek is a gifted storyteller. In this talk, Simon zeroes in on an often overlooked aspect of leadership: safety.

Simon recounts the story of an ambush and its powerful lesson. When Army Captain William Swenson and his men were under heavy fire in Afghanistan, it was all caught on camera. As Swenson is seen helping an injured soldier onto a helicopter, you see Swenson lean over and kiss the injured soldier’s forehead before running back into a battle.


“Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.” –Simon Sinek


Build a Culture That Encourages Selflessness

Why did he do this? Sinek’s first hypothesis was that the military somehow attracted selfless people. After further investigation, Sinek concluded it was the environment that elevated behavior. The culture and values of the organization were strong enough to encourage selflessness.

We will put our lives at risk to save others because of trust. That means that trust increases safety. When we feel safe, we are empowered. When we are not acting under threat, we are able to give our best, to be more creative, to be more productive. More trust = more safety = more productivity and creativity. It’s a formula that all leaders should study.

Trust and safety may be difficult to measure, but they are essential for optimal performance.


“Good leaders make you feel safe.” –Simon Sinek


Without safety, instead of focusing on outside threats, we are turned inside. When we feel safe, we are able to work together for a common cause and fulfill the leader’s vision.

6 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Evan Carmichael

Leadership Lessons from Entrepreneurs

Evan Carmichael is passionate about helping entrepreneurs. He built and sold a biotech software company at 19. He raised millions as a venture capitalist at 22. And then, he started as a website to help entrepreneurs. He is, by his own admission, “obsessed” with this passion.

His YouTube channel has millions of views and is the leading channel for entrepreneurs. You may have seen during one of his numerous media interviews or his many keynote speeches.

Recently, I caught up with Evan in Madrid, Spain. Having followed his career online, I wanted to learn more about the entrepreneurial mindset.

Even if we don’t own a business, what can we all learn from entrepreneurs? Here are a few lessons from Evan that inspired me. Since I am all about encouragement and empowerment, I wanted to share some of his most inspiring words.


6 Lessons from Entrepreneurs

All of us should:

  1. Embrace the entrepreneurial mindset.

This is a mindset of dissatisfaction with the status quo, of solutions, of challenge, and of driving to a more sustainable, successful place.


“Entrepreneurs have a dissatisfaction of the world around us.” –Evan Carmichael


“Entrepreneurs are the crazy ones who see a better future.” –Evan Carmichael


“Entrepreneurs are the solution providers who want to make the world a better place.” –Evan Carmichael


“Most of our global problems could be solved by entrepreneurs.” –Evan Carmichael


  1. Adopt a mindset of empowerment.

We should aim for a feeling of empowerment. It’s not about a title or a position. It’s about how we think. Finding a way to make a difference and to drive change is key to success.


“You don’t need permission to have an impact.” –Evan Carmichael


“Leaders of organizations empower teams to take risks.” –Evan Carmichael


  1. Assess and take appropriate risks.

Some entrepreneurs bet everything, but you can be pragmatic. You can take measured bets. Evan’s take on risk was eye opening. He thinks it’s “crazy risky” to assume you will have your job for 25 years and that your company will still be around. “Why not bet on you?” is a challenge we should all learn from.


“Betting on yourself is one of the best bets you can make.” –Evan Carmichael


  1. Embrace failure.

Failure is a subject I love to study because it is a component of all success. Evan adopts failure as part of the process, as something to embrace and encourage.


“Failure is feedback.” –Evan Carmichael

The Promise of Big Data

The Promise of Big Data

Big data not only has the potential to usher in change, but it is already revolutionizing whole industries. Companies are collecting and utilizing data in ways that most of us are just beginning to understand. Some of us have followed stories of social media companies and how they use data. But it’s beyond that now. Televisions have been created that capture what you are saying. Flashlight apps on our phones have accessed your data. On the other hand, some companies have used data to make our lives easier and personalize our experience.

In Matters of Life and Data, Charles D. Morgan takes you on his personal journey from humble beginnings to CEO of First Orion Corp. He serves on numerous boards and notably was the CEO of Acxiom Corporation from 1972 to 2008. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with him about his new memoir and his experience in the world of big data.


Warning: A flashlight phone app may access the data on your phone.


The Benefits of Big Data

Top Reasons for Leadership Fails

This is a guest post by Alison Brattle. Alison is a marketing manager with AchieveGlobal (UK) Limited. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

Reducing the Risk of Leadership Failure

The world’s greatest leaders know that success is fleeting and that no amount of success in the present can prevent a future failure. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it can’t happen to you, but the truth is, it’s much easier to fail than you think. An essential part of leadership development is understanding the warning signs that indicate potential problems; learn what they are and how to combat them to reduce the risk of a leadership failure.


Leadership Question: Are you able to write down your focus area in just a few words?


Your Focus Shifts

A focus shift can happen in many ways. Some leaders lose sight of what’s important; they get caught up by the pressure that leadership brings, and they lose the focus that they had on the job. In some cases, leaders start to focus too much on the finer details of the job, they start micromanaging, and they end up taking over tasks that are better carried out by other people.

What’s your primary focus in terms of your leadership role? If you can’t write it down succinctly in just a few words, you may be losing focus. Remember that you should be concentrating on leading, not on micromanaging.


You’re Communicating Poorly

If you’ve lost focus as a leader, you’re going to have a very hard time communicating your vision and intent to other people. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your team will automatically know what you’re talking about or know what you want without being told.


Leadership Trap: thinking your team automatically knows what you are talking about.


You’re Afraid of Failure

A good leader is driven by a desire to succeed, but sometimes, doubt and uncertainty creep in, and that desire for success turns into a fear of failure. Past success starts to feel less like achievement and more like pressure, and for some leaders that translates into a fear of taking reasonable risks and a fear of innovating.

Are you still comfortable with risk? Good leaders aren’t reckless, but equally so, they’re not afraid of taking on a reasonable level of risk.


Leadership Question: Are you taking the appropriate amount of risk?


Your Personal Integrity is Slipping