Risk-taking is a crucial part of leadership, both as teams and individuals. When we look at those who are making a difference we can see these people and teams have the courage to move and begin while others are waiting for a better time, more money or staff, support from friends or family, a safer situation or the assurance of good results. However, the best leaders are willing to take a risk because they know that waiting for the stars to be in perfect alignment and for everything to be just right, kills opportunity.
We can also see that innovative people and teams who push past the status quo and challenge their comfort zones reap the benefits and truly make a difference in their personal lives and the lives of others.
One thing that can be confusing and cause strife is the fact that everyone’s comfort zones and ‘risk-o-meter’ are different. What is in the zone to one, can be outside of the lines for another, or may be very easy to others.
For me, international travel is comfortable. I was a toddler living in Japan, a college student working in Denmark, a sea-turtle conservation worker in Costa Rica, and a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho, Southern Africa.
However, just because I had been to southern Africa did not mean that returning 20 years later with my children and elderly family would be a comfortable experience. As a matter of fact, I was really challenged in my decision and found myself significantly outside my comfort zone.
I found myself thinking about the what-ifs. Was the risk of taking my family to a place where malaria was common, 25 percent of the population had HIV and, let’s not forget, lions, worth the rewards and experience?
As a leadership coach and management trainer, I know the joy and fulfillment that come from pushing through, so we made the arrangements and we went on the trip of a lifetime. We experienced the rural highlands of Lesotho, the melting pot metropolis of Cape Town and the wilds of Kruger National Park. It was remarkable and if I had not allowed myself to be stretched we would have missed the experience and making memories that will last a lifetime.
There is something more waiting for all of us – professionally and personally. But getting to the ‘more’ requires risk and the willingness to move into the realm of uncomfortableness where we can grow and prosper. So, what holds us back? In my professional and personal opinion, the answer is fear.
Just think what you would do if you were not afraid. Once we recognize fear is the rope that can both keep us bound and provide safety, we can move toward the things we want to do. We can be both free and safe at the same time to pursue the ‘more’ that life has for us. So how do we both release and use our fear? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Create a culture that welcomes failure and success. Take chances, allow yourself and others to make mistakes. Author John Maxwell calls this ‘failing forward.’ He writes, “If at first you succeed try something harder.”
2. Ask yourself or your team, what would I do if I wasn’t afraid. Physical indicators such sweating, fast pulse and shallow breathing are bravery indicators and crossroads – check your body signals to make the right, and possibly braver, choice.
3. Rehearse a positive outcome. We mostly think about negative outcomes and discuss what could go wrong. Instead, talk about and picture what success would look like.
4. Set bravery goals. Concretely add specific ‘stretch’ goals to your daily, weekly and yearly list. Be detailed and include the where, when, how, etc. And, don’t forget to include why! Why is the biggest motivating and determining factor.
5. Have an accountability partner. Choose someone you respect and who respects you and someone who will challenge you rather than allow you to stay in the comfort zone. Meet or talk daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly.
Great leaders and fulfilled individuals understand that if they are to prosper physically, emotionally and professionally they must take risks and create an environment that encourages innovation and creativity. They must constantly challenge themselves and their team.