Sunday, January 17, 2010

"One hundred percent of the shots you don't take, don't go in." Wayne Gretzky

As I write this, I’m listening to a CD by Susan Boyle. In case you don’t remember, she is the woman who became a YouTube sensation after she blew everyone away on Britain’s Got Talent. It’s a fitting CD to listen to now since I had the idea today to write on the subject of risk-taking.

What is risky varies for each of us – I can speak in front of a large audience with no qualms. I can perform a ballroom dance in front of friends or strangers without hesitation. Sing a solo anywhere outside of the car, no way! As I listen to this soaring voice through the speakers, I think of Ms. Boyle standing in front of an audience prepared to laugh at her because of her looks. I don’t know if she saw it as a risk or not when she stepped out on that stage, and some might say she had little to lose, but at the very least she was risking her dream. When you think about it that is not a little risk at all!

Where are you in your ability to take risks, large or small? Both creativity and leadership are risky ventures. Both require us to imagine a different reality for ourselves, our department, or our organization and then to step out onto one kind of stage or another and try to make change happen. Once we try to make a change, we have risked failure. We have also risked success which sometimes is even scarier! To be a creative leader – one who can envision another way and help move the change forward – we have to take risks.

To undertake this leadership task, it helps to have a clear understanding of our willingness to risk, our tolerance for the messiness and conflict of any change effort, and our ability to help others. We also need to have an appreciation for those factors as experienced by others who will be impacted. Perhaps most important, we need to have an ability to stick it out through the entire process until we truly know whether or not we have succeeded. Change takes time and we need to be committed to a longer time frame than we might be used to. Just think about your New Year’s resolutions if you aren’t sure what I mean! (FYI, I Googled “change efforts” and the first listing was entitled “Leading Change: Why transformation efforts fail”.

Susan Boyle risked her dream and now has a number one CD to her credit and it has sold over three million copies. What dream or idea do you have? What change can you envision for yourself or your organization? What’s stopping you from giving it a try? Is your assessment of the risk accurate? Find a trusted friend or colleague and talk with them about it. For most of us the risk is not as big as we might imagine. I had the idea to do a blog for quite a while, but I wouldn’t start. I told myself it would take too much time, but it was really more about the risk of looking foolish. What if no one reads it? Well, I finally figured out no one could read it if I didn’t write it and so I started. Some people are reading, a few are kind enough to tell me they enjoy it and get something useful. And now I have a few followers who are people I don’t even know! (Welcome to each of you!) And all I had to do was step out onto this stage and see what happened. Turns out to be quite fun and not scary at all.

So - what risks are you avoiding? Maybe there’s a small one you can try and see what good things might happen. And then why not use the comment section to share your story, so we can all share your good news.

Good luck,


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