January 12


What’s your Richter Scale Reading for Risk?

By Sara Canaday

January 12, 2011

career success, leadership, leadership behaviors, leadership development, leadership skills, management, professional development

Please join me in welcoming a new guest blogger, Jane Perdue, CEO of Braithwaite Innovation Group. Throughout her corporate and entrepreneurial careers, Jane has created numerous leadership development programs, some exclusively for women, and has coached hundreds of business leaders to use their heads to manage and their hearts to lead. I’m honored to have Jane share her thought provoking take on leadership, influence, and risk tolerance.
sara canaday jane perdueRecently I facilitated a workshop for a group of high potential women and minorities working for a Fortune 500 firm.   Our topic was influence.  During a discussion regarding the push/pull polarities of influence styles, a participant commented that while using the right style of influence abets the situation, the real issue rests in being willing to take the risk to influence, especially if the status quo is in question.  Her courageous workshop take-away was to take those risks − she believed she owed it to her colleagues, the organization and herself.  It was a powerful moment.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. ~Leo F. Buscaglia

The risk in question here is being the square peg in the round hole, wearing kelly green when your colleagues are wearing charcoal grey, daring — albeit politely — to be the corporate contrarian.

Risking your secure place in the corporate food chain by questioning new practices that run contrary to stated values is a high stake gamble.  Will you be rewarded, take a small hit or lose it all?

According to Julie J. McGowan, professor at Indiana University, ” risk taking is hard to adopt among leaders, because recognized leaders have the most to lose and aspiring leaders may be discounted as lacking in knowledge or common sense.”  Risk-taking can yield both great rewards and possibilities for learning provided you’ve done your homework ahead of time.

Understanding your tolerance for workplace risk-taking, you have to know yourself and understand your surroundings.  To get grounded and be aware, ask and answer some questions:

  • Historically, how has your corporate culture reacted to those who challenged the status quo?  Are you prepared to accept the possible outcomes?  Are you willing to have your credibility eroded? Are you equipped to lose your job?
  • Is this an issue that’s important to you alone, or do others share similar concerns? Will others who think/feel/believe the same speak up after you’ve led the charge, or will your voice be the only one that’s speaking? Are you ready to forge ahead regardless?
  • Are you able to be the center of attention if your topic goes viral within the company?  Are you primed to be emulated and/or attacked?
  • Do you have solid solutions already in mind?  Are you disposed to collaborate with others and devise a solution that integrates the views of many?
  • Have you brainstormed possible unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the stand you’re championing?
  • Are you OK, mentally and emotionally, with the possibility of failure?  Will your self-esteem survive the hit?  Can your ego resist the adulation of success?
  • Do you have the will to see it through? Do you have a support system that will nurture you throughout, regardless of the outcome?

Risk tolerance is extremely personal.  Only you can decide if high risk/high reward is your métier or if low risk/low reward represents the boundaries of your comfort zone.

Be prepared, be thoughtful and do what’s right for you.

Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

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