The Risk-Reward Ratio

“I went to a marvelous party. With Nooch, and Nana and Neil.”

With apologies to Noel Coward for taking creative license with his lyrics, the event in question took place on Saturday night and celebrated the 50th Birthdays of two of the most generous spirits I know. 

The festivities went long into the night, 11:30pm satisfying that description for a group honoring two 50 year olds - context being everything in the face of hyperbolic statements. And by the time we left, the couple in question had been toasted and serenaded in every imaginable way. Songs, poems, tributes and speeches filled the air, each more personal and original than the last. 

At an event such as Saturday night’s, for everyone with something to say there is risk. That what they feel will not be expressed in what they say. 

And there is reward. That a memory will be formed that is worthy of the memories that brought everyone in the room to this moment.

The ratio between risk and reward is determined by a simple decision. To act. Or to wait. 

To act immediately lowers the risk - your role being to define the tone, set the standards and build the foundations. And lowers the reward - for the good of the group demands that the leader be increasingly overshadowed by the efforts of all that follow. 

To wait raises the risk. That what comes before will create expectations you can not meet, and energy you can not maintain. But increases the reward. Of memorability and impact. Provided you get it right.

This is true in creative organizations as well. The best leaders setting the stage and then stepping aside to allow the performers to create long lasting impressions. 

Both require confidence. As a leader that you have set the right standards, and hired people capable of greatness. And as a performer that you have the courage to take advantage of the platform, and the skills to deliver when expectations are high.

On Saturday night, we had both.

The standards set by the two people we were there to honor.

And the coup de grace provided by the family member who calculated the risk-reward ratio to perfection. Who waited until there was nothing left that could be said. And who then stood and asked of us all the simplest of things. That we hug those that mattered to us.

He risked. We were rewarded.

A better deal I can’t imagine.