How to use Caution Like a Leader and Act with Discreet Boldness

Do something where failure matters.

Too much caution results in inactive leadership. All leadership requires action.


When I ask experienced leaders what they would do differently, they often say they would take more risks.

A pinch of caution with a pound of passion builds the future. But a pound of caution with a pinch of passion solidifies the past.

The useful role of caution:

#1. Caution prepares for unforeseen eventualities.

Over-optimism underestimate difficulties. (To be fair, if you had fully known all the challenges ahead, you might never have begun.)

#2. Caution makes choices with appropriate gravity.

Impulsive decision-makers destabilize organizations.

#3. Caution goes by the book.

The value of going by the book is freedom to focus on opportunities. The ‘book’ – on the dark side – becomes a hiding place for cowardly leaders. 

10 considerations regarding caution:

  1. Caution chooses to solve problems, but the future is built by seizing opportunities.
  2. Caution without boldness blocks decisions.
  3. Caution enjoys the security of hierarchy. Taking responsibility is the courageous decision to take ownership without hiding behind others.
  4. Over-caution is kin to self-protection. Put yourself into the fray. Standing aloof smells of cowardice.
  5. Caution is one aspect of confidence.
  6. Over-caution tells team mates you don’t trust them.
  7. When stakes are high, caution suggests making decisions with the counsel of stakeholders.
  8. Caution knows all decisions set trajectory. You are always going somewhere, even if it’s backwards.
  9. Caution makes short-term decisions with long-term objectives in mind.
  10. Caution serves leaders well when it alerts them to the gravity of substantive decision.

What useful role does caution play in leadership?

When might caution not serve leaders well?