If one of the world’s most experienced and respected diplomats, former United Nations General Secretary and Nobel Prize winner Kofi Annan can’t resolve differences, what hope is there for the rest of us dealing with our own office politics?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that any organization’s politics are anywhere near as complicated as what’s going on in and around Syria. It’s just that some barriers are insurmountable and knowing when to walk away is a critically important skill.

Annan and Syria

English: Kofi Annan. Former United Nations Sec...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Without re-hashing everything going on in and around Syria, it’s fair to say that Annan is resigning because he no longer believes he can solve the problem. He got agreement in principle to a six-point peace plan, but has been unable to move the key players to act on it. There has been and will continue to be all sorts of finger-pointing about who’s to blame, but Annan has decided it’s time for him to walk away from what he sees as insurmountable barriers.

A Framework For Assessing Risk

We originally created this framework for people to use in doing due diligence before accepting a job and describe it in more depth The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan. Since things are always changing, it’s also useful for people assessing the go forward risks of whatever job, project, or endeavor in which they are already involved.

There are always risks. On a continual basis, gather information (what). Analyze it and think about it (so what). Then decide now what to do. We suggest categorizing the risk as low, manageable, mission-crippling, or insurmountable and then taking appropriate action.

Low Level of Risk

There are always risks. If the risk isn’t there now, it will show up later. But if the level of risk is low enough so as not to impact your ability to get done what you need to get done, get on with it and enjoy the ride. Just keep your eyes open for the inevitable changes and their inherent risks.


Manageable Level of Risk

If you determine there is a manageable level of risk, you should feel good for two reasons. First, you’ve identified the risks. Second, you’re confident you can manage them. Get on with the work and manage these risks as you go.


Mission-Crippling Risk

The critical judgment in this whole exercise is separating manageable risk from mission-crippling risk. If the risk is manageable, you can make things work. If the risk is mission-crippling, you cannot be successful with a change. So before you go any further, you should be certain that you have the authority and ability to implement the necessary changes to resolve or mitigate this risk. If not, you should walk away.


Insurmountable Barrier

An insurmountable barrier is a mission-crippling risk that cannot (or will not) be resolved. As painful as it is to find these, finding them before you accept the job is dramatically less painful than finding them later. If it feels insurmountable, it is. Listen to your intuition.


Low level: Get on with the work. (But keep your eyes open.)

Manageable: Manage the risk in the normal course of the work.

Mission-crippling: Resolve before going forward.

Insurmountable barriers: Walk away.

This is a good example of step 1 of The New Leader’s Playbook:  Position Yourself for Success

There are several components of this including positioning yourself for a leadership role, selling before you buy, mapping and avoiding the most common land mines, uncovering hidden risks in the organization, role, and fit, and choosing the right approach for your transition type.  (Including an interim role.)

Click here to read about each step in the playbook

Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step