The Risk Test


Apply John Maxwell's "Risk Test" to help you determine if the decision you're evaluating is reasonable or reckless.

Last time I wrote about the difference between good timing and procrastination, and included some tests you could apply to find out whether you were putting off decisions that needed to be made.

Just like there are two sides to every coin, there are two extremes when it comes to taking action. Procrastinators are at one extreme: putting off actions or decisions when they really should be making a move. At the other end of the spectrum is the impatient person: one who rushes to make a decision or to take action, even when it is unwise.

Because I tend to land somewhere closer to the impatient end of the spectrum, I have devoted a lot of thought to the importance of good timing.

To evaluate a goal or decision, I like to apply the Risk Test, in which I ask,

Is This Decision Reasonable Or Reckless?


  • Built on Strategy
  • Has Some Margin for Error
  • Is an Extension of What You Do Well
  • Challenges You


  • Built on Hope
  • Has No Margin for Error
  • Has Little Connection with What You Do Well
  • Overwhelms You

Let’s take a look at these differences:

Built on Strategy vs. Hope
Have you spent the necessary amount of time planning and preparing for this decision? Or are you acting on passion or impatience, with only the hope that everything will work out?

Reasonable Margin of Error
Does everything have to work out perfectly for this decision to succeed? What will happen if (when) you encounter problems? Do you have a strategy in place for handling complications? Is there enough margin for you to survive if everything goes wrong?

Based on What You Do Well
When you take action, will you be working from your strengths? Or does the goal require effort in areas where you are naturally weak?

Challenges rather than Overwhelms
All of us want to achieve something bigger than ourselves. So a goal should feel challenging. But if it seems overwhelming or even impossible, then at the very least, you should spend more time in the planning stage to break it down into manageable steps. Or you need to enlist help. Otherwise you may need to evaluate whether the timing is right.

The Law of Timing (in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership) teaches that when to move is as important as what to do and where to go. Just as it’s possible to wait too long to act, so it's possible to take action too soon. Finding a balance will give you the best chance of success in achieving your goals. But know this: if you’re going to lean toward one side over the other, lean toward action.


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