Taking a stand for yourself or others feels risky. But the importance of risk lies in who you become as a result of the experience—a trusted leader who can influence the future.
What a ropes course taught me about risk taking
One summer I helped facilitate a Leadership Retreat in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. In a small valley below the conference center stood a ropes course that resembled a fierce pirate ship. As you made your way to that valley, the structure rose up before you with three tiers of what looked like impossible challenges.
For several hours, 54 people risked their way to the top and exited by a giant zip line that sent them soaring through the trees. I watched this human drama as it played out on their faces, the extending of one hand to another, the encouragement of those afraid to go on, and the true grit it took to reach the top. It was an amazing theatre of risk and influence.
Among the climbers was an attorney—we’ll call him Cam—who made it known that he didn’t want to be there that day. He frowned all morning and groused about missing another commitment.
Early on the ropes course, Cam was just ahead of three women who were terrified of pulling themselves across a section of ropes on a platform on pulleys. They were frozen.
Instead of going to the next obstacle, Cam began to offer simple encouragement that grew to no less than a feat of taking each woman across the ropes himself, pulling the weight of two.
The risks you take for others not only nets you powerful trust, you are changed by it. By nightfall Cam was generous, engaged and alive. The next morning he shared with the group his experience on the ropes. He became a leader in discussion and vulnerability for the rest of the weekend.
Putting people ahead of immediate gain keeps you most alive and gives the rest of us hope.
There are four steps to risk-taking
1. Name your fears. What keeps you from saying what needs to be said? Perhaps it’s the fear of not meeting the goals your own performance record. Sometimes we feel those are at odds with walk the talk. May be it’s the fear of failure a rejection or loss of our comfort zone. Get honest with yourself and name the things that keep you from the true grit of greatness.
2. Break it down. Break down the big goal of walking your talk into smaller, daily goals. Risking isn’t an occasional act; it’s an approach to life. Ask yourself, “What can I do today to keep a promise, empower people or model the core values of the company?”
3. Celebrate. Noticing your accomplishments will reinforce your behavior and lead to bigger risks and true grit. When you feel yourself back-sliding, stop and review your wins. Ask the help of a trusted friend or family member to route for you. It’s easier to risk when you know someone will celebrate your success with you.
4. Re-risk. How do you know when you let it slip out of your life? You feel slug-like and bored. Today is new. Set a goal for today. Re-risk. Make a phone call you’ve been avoiding, have that tough conversation. Aside from confidence, your sense of fearlessness grows. In no time, new passions will surface.
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