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Leadership and Risk-Taking

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael JordanSuccessful leadership must rise above fearing making a mistake or taking risks. Sometimes we will fail, but failure often provides some of life’s biggest learning opportunities.People who embrace this as well as the uncertainty and risk that are inherent parts of doing anything worthwhile and lasting are the ones who rise above the norm.

Risk-takingcan be defined as undertaking a task in which there is a lack of certainty or a fear of failure. But without risk-taking, trial and error,you are stagnant, predictable, and ultimately you will become complacent. Risks are about pushing yourself until you’re operating outside your comfort zone and allowing yourself to take a step that might feel scary at first. The core of our reluctance to take risks is fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking like a fool, fear of seeming ignorant, fear of seeming too pushy. But, according to Seth Godin, “Playing it safe and not taking a risk is probably the most dangerous thing you could do in today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive business environment.” Without some element of risk, nothing would ever be accomplished.

So, how do you wisely become a risk-taker? Listen to your intuition. Risk-taking is actually a gut reaction. Often, people tend to overthink things. They come up with many reasons “not to” but end up coming back to their first thought anyway. Believe in that first thought; nine times out of ten, it will prove to be worthwhile.

Watch out for analysis paralysis. Greatness doesn’t come from being predictable and playing it safe. It’s good to be consistent, and we shouldn’t rush wildly into risks. But don’t overanalyze. You can talk yourself out of anything. It might never be the perfect time, with the perfect set of circumstances, but at some point you just have to step out and do it. Take the risk, take the step. People will respect you for it.

Don’t let “your knowledge” determine all your actions. We must remain open to learning, realizing that the world is changing quickly. We can’t afford to think we have all the answers because we never do. Sometimes what worked before will never work again. The best thing we can do is be open to exploring new options and adopt a trial-and-error mentality.

Try baby steps. If risks aren’t for you, try them in small doses. Put your toe in first before you take the giant leap. This will give you an idea of the potential before the impact is major. This method will allow you to see the outcome before the impact is too grand.In their book Great By Choice, Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen talk about the concept of firing bullets, then cannonballs. The bullets represent low-cost, low-risk and low-distraction items. Cannonballs represent the much larger risks.

Go ahead, fail! Failure is an opportunity for growth. Failure should bean option. If you are learning from your mistakes, you are experiencing growth. Failure is simply a steppingstone to your success if you learn from the failure. With risk-taking, you won’t win every time. Minimize the fallout whenever possible and plan to try again with the necessary changes. They are called risks for a reason, but don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Mistakes are the best way people learn and develop.

Be open to everything and attached to nothing. In George C. Fraser's book, Click: Ten Truths for Building Extraordinary Relationships, we are told to "be open to everything and attached to nothing, the best idea wins." When you are not sold on a particular idea, you are able to try different ideas more easily. Your way of thinking or doing things may shift if you have an open mind.As we said, risk-taking requires conquering our fears. There are a few common fears that shut down our willingness to move out.

Criticism. When you are a leader, typically your shortcomings will be highlighted more than your strengths. As a leader, criticism is something you should expect, so the best advice is to get used to it. Face the fear head on by regularly requesting feedback, and seriously consider it before you toss it.

Failure. Let’s face it. Failing at anything is hard, more so when everyone is watching. But no one becomes a successful leader without experiencing failure along the way. When you make mistakes, own them and let the team know what you are going to do starting today to right the ship.

Making Decisions. Poor decisions will be made. Be prepared, use the information at hand, and make the best possible decisions you can. When you miss the mark, adjust quickly.

Speaking. The fear of public speaking tops the charts in surveys worldwide. But as a leader, one of the things you should be doing the most is addressing your team. Take every opportunity you can to speak in front of audiences.

Responsibility. As the saying goes, with power comes responsibility. Your priority is to your team. If you put them first, all the rest will fall into place. As a leader your role is to define the mission, provide resources, and remove obstacles. Embrace the fact that you have a team to lead. It’s a good problem to have. If you have the right people doing the right things, working together as a team will lighten your burden of responsibility.Whatever is keeping you from taking risks, it is always best to face it head on. You will soon realize you had nothing to be afraid of.

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