Are You a Risk-Thinker?


As a part of my Doctoral programme, we were required to do a course on leading change in education. As is customary in these highly interactive courses, we were required to articulate the words and ideas which we naturally associated with change-management; immediately I coined the term “risk-thinking”. An obvious spin off from the word “risk-taker”, risk-thinking for me is where it all begins. Historically, any significant social or personal change has had to begin in the thoughts or imagination. We have to begin to think that change is possible, see it in our mind’s eye, before we can begin to articulate what that change should look like. Although risk-thinking can be applied to any aspect of our personal or professional lives, it can hold deep significance when applied to the context of education; especially since formal education as we know it, is built on a foundation of rich tradition and institutionalisation.

Risk-thinking is a valuable tool for 21st Century educational leaders, who must begin to conceptualise new ways for constructing a dynamic educational system to better meet the needs of a rapidly evolving society. A leader’s ability to manage change, however, will require the skill of moving messy sometimes chaotic and spontaneous thoughts from an expectant imagination, to a doable action plan. According to Roscorla, (2010) innovative leadership involves a willingness to break rules and traditions, to establish principles, which are capable of buffering change. Change is, therefore, never valueless. Underlying most change processes is a desire to make things better. This desire for development and growth in a context of innovation must, however, be guided by reflective consideration of all the change variables. It must embody a healthy respect for the past and be guided by shared values which articulate why the change is preferred or critical.

Asking ourselves what policies or practices we will completely ditch, merge, modify or re-create, is an important step in the process of moving our risk-thinking to wise action. Engaging all stakeholders in the process is also critical, as leaders who see themselves as lone crusaders or heroes will soon experience the exhaustion that comes with burnout. The creation of organisational buy-in through shared idea-generation, transparency in decision-making, and the implementation of accountability systems are strategic leadership strategies for ensuring sustainable change.

Ultimately, the objective of risk-thinking should not be the creation of an impossible, out of reach “pie-in-the-sky” ideal. Great ideas that lack infrastructural soundness can be counterproductive and may lead to greater organisational frustration. Innovative leadership requires not just the creativity to think great ideas but must include building the organisational capacity to make them happen.

Denise J Charles © 2017


Roscorla, T. (2010). The seven steps to innovative leadership. Converge, Center for DigitalEducation. Retrieved from Innovative-Leadership.html