Contributed by Kristin Kaufman, Alignment, Inc.
“Boldly going where no man (or woman) has gone before” has become a modern day cliché, representing adventure, bravery, and futuristic thinking. Though, if we’re completely honest with ourselves, many women will admit they simply follow suit as leaders. We may up the current game in our company and in our personal lives by being competitive in how we play the game; yet, how often do we really change the game?
Shareholder pressure, personal and professional fear, recessionary conditions, and myriad factors contribute to more conservative approaches to work and life. Yet, as leaders and even aspiring leaders in today’s world, it is our job and our responsibility to chart new paths. If we don’t encourage playing dangerously and coloring outside the lines, who will? We must continue to innovate, push, explore, and make it safe for others to do so – otherwise, we will stagnate, avoid risks, become complacent, and ultimately not progress in our roles and contribution to our organizations.
So, let’s break it down. If we truly want to lead, what are a few things we can consider to improve our success ratio or at least minimize our risk of totally flaming out?
Know your audience and meet them where they are. Whether we are driving a new compensation plan internally, introducing a new product or service, forging an entirely new channel to market or going after a new donor pool on an entirely different scale, we need to know what they need and want. We need to create a ‘win-win’ scenario and present our approach to them in terms they will understand.
Build and nurture a network. As leaders we need a support system who will tell us the honest truth (even if what we hear is not what we want to hear), and provide advice and perspective as we move forward. Having additional sets of eyes looking at your approach can reveal the weak links, as well as areas for further exposure.
Be a three-dimensional chess player. As leaders, we have to think strategically, not just tactically. Sure, it is important to know what to do next; yet, it is even more important to have our paths charted three to four steps ahead.
Remember critical thinking is not negative thinking. It is simply our ability to think about what may work, and what may not work. When we pursue new approaches, we have to think of all the things that could go well, as well as those that may be insurmountable. Then, we discover new chess moves to overcome those obstacles, or maneuver around them.
Be resilient. We all have failed on occasion. How we pick ourselves up from these stumbles is what people remember, not whether we or not failed. Leading through adversity and showing resilient behavior is what inspires our followers.
Overcoming Our Fears
Recently a client was trying to determine whether to pursue a seemingly out-of-reach objective. She would be going out on limb, and potentially risk failure, exposure, and possibly even her credibility. She was pursuing a promotion for which she was qualified, yet the position was out of her business unit, two levels up, and she was not the politically favored candidate. She was questioning whether to even throw her name in the hat. Have you been there?
Risk taking is full of potential failure, otherwise it would be called sure thing taking. Yet, when we don’t risk anything, we ultimately risk everything. A few thoughts on how to gain the courage to go out on the limb:
Figure out what drives your fear. We need to ask ourselves – what do we want? How badly do we want it? What is really holding us back? Once we understand this, we can focus on overcoming the inertia of not doing anything.
Think about a time when we overcame that thing that scared us to death, and lived to tell about it. This may have been speaking in front of 20,000 people or throwing a critical pass during the final game of the season or confronting a wrong doing by a higher-up within your organization. This becomes the fuel for centering ourselves in pursuing the next risky proposition.
Bust a move! Just make the first move to climb out on that limb! This first step provides the power. Regardless of how scary – just do it. In the case of my client, this meant sending an email to the CEO asking for a few minutes of his time to discuss the opportunity. Forward momentum is the key.
Taking risks is a critical component of leadership. If we are not stretching beyond our comfort zone, we are not learning. If we are not exposing ourselves to the risk of potential failure, we are equally not exposing ourselves to the risk of success. Playing it safe breeds complacency. Our competition loves this. Whether our competition is another person vying for the same promotion, another company selling a similar product or service, or a nation vying for a majority share of import/export business – we will lose by not taking calculated risks.
So, as leaders, we need to take the risk we are more afraid of taking. “Go where no one has gone before.”