If you want to move ahead in your career, you have to take risks. Being adaptable and willing to try new things, even at risk of failure, is crucial for leadership success. Effective leaders accept risk, are daring at times and change according to the situation. They also view mistakes as learning opportunities. But before you throw all caution to the wind, remember that risk-taking should be measured and in pursuit of a larger goal. If your goal is to one day lead a sector of the organization where you're currently employed, don't make an unnecessary move to another sector just for financial gains or other short-term benefits. Identify your ultimate goals and keep in line with where you hope to end up, but be willing to push your limits to get there.
Steps you can take
What can you do to get out of your comfort zone and avoid short-changing yourself?
Improve your presence: Seek out experiential opportunities. Improvisation workshops and other public speaking courses and clubs such as Toastmasters International can help you recognize your passions, anxieties and fears. They can also enhance your personal presence and confidence, as well as your ability to listen, think on your feet and adapt quickly.
Stretch your boundaries: Talk with colleagues within your organization, associates in your industries at other organizations, people in positions to which you aspire, and entrepreneurs who regularly try new things and take risks. Ask them how they handle discomfort and how they prepare for challenging situations.
Weigh the outcomes: When tempted to take the safe path, ask yourself, "What is the worst thing that might happen if I take a risk?" or "How might those around me gain if I do push myself and try something new?" You might also ask, "What value to the larger community is lost by me not venturing beyond my fears?" Discuss risks with a trusted colleague, friend or learning partner.
Consider larger impacts: Not all risk comes with reward. Though taking risks may get you ahead, the actions could have consequences for your colleagues, your organization or your clients. Consider these carefully when determining how to move forward. Make sure your actions are bold, yet well-reasoned.
Test the waters: Although you want to take bold steps in the marketplace, remember that less is often more. Try a small step that gets you closer to your ultimate goal. Research suggests that most people can't change more than one or two things at a time. Not ready to quit your job and jump into an entrepreneurial venture head first, or enter a full-time graduate degree program to switch careers? Try a side venture or an evening-weekend educational program to get you closer to your goals.
Jeffrey Kudisch directs the Office of Career Services at University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business and is a faculty expert in leadership, negotiations and human capital management. He also co-founded Personnel Assessment Systems Inc., a human resource consulting firm specializing in executive assessment and leadership development.