In the recent financial meltdown, the risk behaviour of quite a small number of people came near to destroying western culture. This serves to remind us of the pivotal significance of risk in every day life and its presence at the heart of all life decisions. The way we manage risk, it turns out, has a great deal to do with our personalities, a perspective that enriches our understanding and sets out a framework for self-awareness and personal development. Viewed through this lens, risk taking and the ways in which a person responds to different kinds of risk, fit very well on the coaching agenda.

There are many models and philosophies to which a coach may subscribe, but the aim of helping clients to raise self-awareness and to take personal responsibility is something they all share. Although often instigated by a particular problem, of itself, coaching does not have the answer.

Coaching seeks to enable the client to focus on what is achievable and what is appropriate for them.

In order to raise self-awareness and personal responsibility for their risk behaviour, a person needs a vocabulary and a conceptual framework that allows them to appreciate its scope and to gain insight into its nature. They need to clarify what is required of them in terms of restraint, assertiveness or deference, as well as how they can make important risk taking contributions in terms of the identification of opportunities, innovations and business development strategies. In short, achieving a more grounded understanding
of what managing the balance between risk and opportunity means for them; an individualised agenda for personal responsibility.

In all of us, our needs and desires are tempered by our fears and anxieties. Perception of opportunity is balanced by perception of risk; we may want things but do we have the courage to go for them? This balance is different for each of us. It is also a feature that distinguishes one species from another; rabbits and sheep are distinctive in their timidity; cats and foxes are distinguished by their adventurous hunting sorties. In both cases, these dispositions are the key to their survival. Within our own species, which is the most bio- diverse of all creatures, there is much more variability. Risk taking characteristics like curiosity, determination and adventurousness are dominant in some, and caution, anxiety and fear are more influential in others.

Propensity for taking risks has typically been oversimplified and perceived as a single factor; a simple distinction between risk takers and the risk averse. It turns out to be a lot more complicated. In reality, there is an almost infinite diversity of individual risk dispositions but the eight distinctive Risk Types provide reference points that allow us to keep our bearings in this otherwise complex territory.

Risk compass definitions


Very self-controlled and detailed in their planning, this type is organised and systematic. Conforming and conventional, they are most comfortable with continuity and familiarity. They like to stick to what they know.


Self-disciplined, cautious and pessimistic, they are unadventurous and feel strongly about doing things correctly. Alert to risk and always aware that things can go wrong they seek to control events and people accordingly.


Highly strung, pessimistic and nervous, in extreme examples, personal relationships and decision-making may become an emotional minefield. Passionate and self-critical by nature, they take it personally when things go wrong.


Uninhibited and challenging, they enjoy the spontaneity of unplanned decisions. They are attracted to risk like moths to a flame, but are distraught when things go wrong. Their passion and daring make them exciting but unpredictable.


Spontaneous, excitement seeking and sometimes reckless, they are comfortable in fast-paced situations and in making decisions ‘on the fly’. Their liveliness, imprudence and spontaneity limits attention to detail or careful preparation.


The Adventurous Risk Type is impulsive and fearless. They combine a deeply constitutional calmness with high impulsivity and a willingness to challenge tradition and convention. They seem imperturbable, fearless and intrepid.


The Composed Risk Type is cool-headed, confident and optimistic. At the extreme they seem almost oblivious to risk and unaware of its effect on others. They take everything in their stride and manage stress really well.


Methodical and compliant, this Risk Type tend to be unusually calm and optimistic. Their self-confidence allows them to tackle risk and uncertainty in a purposeful and business-like way. They never walk into anything unprepared.

The Axial Group

About 12% of people fall close to the axis of the Risk Type Compass; effectively neutral in terms of Risk Type characteristics.


From a counselling perspective, Risk Type is a powerful concept because this balance between the drive to exploit opportunity and the restraints of fear, anxiety and sensitivity to risk are likely to be the most distinctive and consequential aspect of a person’s personality. Risk Type is about as close as you can get to your survival instincts; it is deeply rooted and it introduces a persistent bias in behaviour, thought and decision making.


The Risk Type approach recognises individual differences in the prominence in different risk related personality characteristics. In developing the coachee’s appreciation of the advantages and challenges these characteristics pose, coaching will be a liberating, performance enhancing experience. Reviewing past successes and difficulties in their management of risk and clarifying their understanding of their Risk Type are all important steps towards insight and self- actualisation.

Given the sheer volume of these issues in large organisations, one-on-one coaching beyond the C-suite is logistically stymied. Group coaching and team development are strategies that can work in this situation. In risk saturated contexts such as heavy industry, financial or emergency services, group coaching can be the most realistic option. This refers to the provision of separate group sessions exclusively for each Risk Type. This approach has distinct advantages as well as being logistically pragmatic. In this context participants can share experiences and insights and discuss strategies that deal with issues common to them all. The model is akin to AA or Weight Watchers; mutual learning and support between individuals with a shared issue; learning directly from those you trust and who know from experience how it feels.

At another level, Risk Type oriented team building addresses the diversity of Risk Types within the team and focuses on relationships, communication, social dynamics, mutual respect for opposing viewpoints and decision making processes. The Risk Type vocabulary facilitates discussion about the strength, limitations and potential for improving working relationships and effectiveness of that team’s Risk Type configuration.

Risk is an issue where, in the past, the human factor has been overshadowed by the effort to define and quantify the risk itself, and to develop procedures, processes and systems designed to contain the problem. Partly, this ‘people blind’ approach may have developed because risk managers have needed to be risk averse and also because the personality domain was considered too remote to be relevant. One way or another, the risk management professions have been systems, rather than people, oriented. The value of Risk Type is that it makes risk related aspects of personality accessible, providing a clear structure and terminology, an approach that allows this imbalance to be addressed and opens up new horizons for personal and organisational risk management.