I’ve noticed at least three types of risk-taking personalities at work: gunslingers, ninjas, and snipers. Each of these styles boils down to two distinctive factors: involvement and exposure. Gunslingers are the most involved. They are right there in the blood and dirt, exposed to every stray bullet and broken beer bottle in the saloon. When they succeed, everyone knows who did it. Likewise, when they fail, their failure is well-known.
Ninjas, while not directly involved, still have great personal exposure to risk. They sneak right into the heart of the enemy, gathering information and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. If they are found out, they can’t escape because they are right in the middle of the camp.
Snipers avoid involvement and exposure. They stand out on the periphery of the risk, waiting for an opportunity to strike that is both effective and does not expose them to any of the negative consequences of failure.
How do these personality types play out in the corporate world? Gunslingers are not satisfied with simply pointing out the right way to do something from a distance (snipers) or with covertly waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate their expertise (ninja). Instead, they wade right into the problem, dealing with the problem, making mistakes, suffering the consequences, and learning from them.
1) Only Gunslingers succeed
Only gunslingers are truly successful risk takers over the long term. Why? Because ninjas and snipers are rarely effective, and when they are, nobody knows. Besides, they don’t really deserve much recognition, considering their lack of involvement and exposure.
2) Corporate bullets are rubber – they sting but seldom kill
A real gunslinger in the Old West only got to make one mistake, and then he was dead. Not so in the corporate saloon. Mistakes seldom kill or even maim. Instead, they sting. The bruise they leave is a lesson, not a mortal wound. We are frequently as apprehensive of risk-taking as a participant in a real gunfight may feel, and sometimes we mistake a bruised ego for a career-ending blow. Don’t do this. See the bullets for what they really are – lessons to learn from, knocks on our egos that help us to subject ourselves to discipline, professionalism, and a focus on results.
There are many innumerable bad things in life that suck more than losing your job, being demoted, or getting a bad review. Let me list a couple:
The point is, there are worse things in the world than screwing up at work. I have survived a million different mistakes that I thought would end my career before I made them and then realized they weren’t such a big deal. Messing up, learning we messed up, and then avoiding the same mistake in the future is how we grow.
Guess what? Being a gunslinger is the fastest way to grow because gunslingers screw up so much. Not because they aren’t as smart or as talented as the ninja and the sniper, but because they are involved and exposed.