When was the last time you took a risk? When I hear this question, I think of my son’s love of jumping out of airplanes. He often encourages me to try it, and each time I reply, “Maybe next year.”
In business, it is critical that leaders be open to new ideas and willing to listen to new approaches. But in order to obtain new solutions, leaders must encourage risk-taking and encourage others to step out into untried territory rather than play it safe.
Innovation requires risk-taking, but often we are bound by self-imposed constraints—I call these “phantom rules”—that make it impossible to come up with new solutions. Leaders must make it safe for others to experiment and possibly fail; they must make those they lead confident and secure in order for them to be willing to venture out into new territory.
Remember when you learned a new game or sport? I recall my first ski lesson. After several hours, I was so proud because I did not fall once! However, my instructor looked at me after my boastful comment and said, “If you’re not falling, you’re not learning. You are playing it too safe by not trying anything more difficult.” He was right. What a life lesson! I’m not suggesting that failure should be an objective, but rather mistakes should be looked at through the lens of a learning opportunity.
Mike Markkula, an American entrepreneur, and former CEO of Apple Computer, Inc. said, “I believe the overall quality of work improves when you give people a chance to fail.” Leaders can be more successful in permitting risk-taking if they debrief every failure—as well as every success—by asking, “What worked?” “Where did you get stuck?” and “What will you do differently going forward?”
Leaders coach others to build skills and clarify priorities. They also build confidence by allowing people to take risks and fail, which is the only way to reach new levels of performance.
But you don’t have to attempt the business equivalent of skydiving to reap the rewards of risk taking. Create room for risk by stepping outside your comfort zone just a little. You’ll surprise yourself at the results!