Many entrepreneurs take risks - it's part of the nature of business. Unfortunately, they don't always take smart risks. They may take unnecessary or foolish risks, and often the result is predictable. Some even take what they think are risks, but really aren't. Others take risks that they think threaten their security, but they're actually risking something just as critical - their happiness.
You might call entrepreneur Nigel Bennett an adrenaline junkie. An avid adventurer, he surfs, climbs mountains, hikes the wilderness, dives off bridges, and even has been shot at by FARC guerillas on the Venezuelan/Colombia border. Some may think it's risky, but Bennett is all about taking the right risks. Bennett is the Founder and Principal of Aqua-Guard Spill Response, a worldwide leader in the design, manufacture, and supply of marine oil spill response equipment and services. His work saving the oceans has taken him all over the world, and Aqua-Guard was a major supplier of equipment for the cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Bennett is also the founder of the TruBeach App, a mobile platform for community reporting on coastline and ocean cleanliness, and co-founder of Giftadd.com, a movement to replace the story that says ADD and dyslexia are curses with one that sees them as gifts. Bennett has collected a number of nominations and awards for his work, including Distinguished Alumni of the year award from the British Columbia Institute of Technology, the Advanced Technology Award from the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of British Columbia, and the RuleBreaker Award at NextCon. He's also the author of Take That Leap: Risking It All For What Really Matters. With such an unfortunately busy company, Bennett has had to learn how to balance his very important business with his family responsibilities and his desire to do volunteer work.
Here is Bennett's advice on taking risks for what's most important:
1. Join a solid peer group.
Looking back, Bennett believes that joining a professional peer group was one of the most profound turning points in his life. "I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the Entrepreneurs Organization by a 330 pound former professional football player that had started a business," Bennett smiles. That group has changed the way he lives his life and conducts his businesses. He asserts, "I believe that if you are not evolving, you are dying." But don't stop at just one group. He explains, "Don't stagnate! Expand your perspective by evolving into other peer groups over time." The people you meet in these peer groups will support you when you're down, challenge you to get better, and offer an empathy that will be difficult to find elsewhere. With their counsel and friendship, you'll be better able to identify good and bad risk, and better able to recover should things go wrong.
2. Get a good coach.
Bennett strongly believes that asking for help is not just acceptable, but actually good for you. "I ask for help when I get stuck. Don't push away people who can help you!" he advises. He goes on, "Coaches, peer groups, and a close circle of friends and family keep me on my toes, injecting me with new energy and ideas, and helping push me into that sweet spot where I'm in the zone of accelerated growth and learning." It's important to have a point person you can go to consistently for advice, commiseration, and celebration. Their wisdom will make you a better, more strategic risk taker, and keep your focus on what's most important.
3. Build the best team around you.
Between his coach and his close-knit family and friends, it's no surprise that Bennett is a big believer in strong teams in business. "In 'Good to Great,' Jim Collins said you need to get the right people in the right seats on the bus, including the driver. Without a good team and a good leader (COO), you will never get your freedom back," Bennett shares. He also argues that promoting from inside is nearly always the preferable option. "Don't make the mistake of parachuting in C-suite leaders from outside the organization. It never works. It is better to groom and promote talent organically in house over time," he asserts. Cherry picking a savior from outside your group might be a risk that's not worth it.
4. Never sacrifice family for a business crisis.
There's one line that Bennett won't cross: family comes first, every time. "In business, there seems to be a crisis every day," he empathizes. But that doesn't mean you need to shift into crisis mode every time. Instead, Bennett suggests you trust your team. "Take the risk of stepping away and allowing others to step up and learn without you there," he advises. "In the end, your relationships with your business partners and family will be much stronger for it," he shares. Your team will learn that you trust them to make the right decisions, and your family will know they are the priority.
5. Dig deep and find your "why."
A lifetime on entrepreneurship has taught Bennett that your motivation needs to come from inside. He believes that you need to be constantly searching for it until you find it. "Don't sell your business or retire unless you've discovered your own personal 'why,'" he warns. He goes on, "I have witnessed many entrepreneurs sell their businesses, thinking they had made it, only to end up miserable a year later. Before you liquidate, be crystal clear about your life purpose!" If you haven't built something you believe in, keep building.
6. Give of yourself.
Bennett has made a very successful career out of cleaning the environment. Doing good has made doing well all the more rewarding. "I am proof positive that it is possible to set up a business or a career that can become a conduit for doing good and amazing things in the world," he states. It can be a scary thing being dedicated to something beyond the bottom line, but the reward is well worth the risk. And it doesn't stop with just Bennett. "We take this up a notch by giving together as a family," he explains. It's a great way to demonstrate to the next generation which risks are worth taking.
On Fridays, Kevin explores industry trends, professional development, best practices, and other leadership topics with CEOs from around the world.