No Risk, No Reward: The Power of Risk Taking for Your Career
by Chico Orange
For Oswalt, the chance to make a risky career move arrived when she accepted a role working on a project in an undefined, new area. There was a lot of risk, as the project would make her success -“ or failure -“ highly visible.
Taking risks grooms you for future leadership roles
“Personal risk taking can also build leadership skills,” says Oswalt.
And she’s not alone in this sentiment. According to a Catalyst report, 40% of women in leadership positions say that going after “difficult, visible” assignments was key to their advancement.
IMAGE: FLICKR, DIEGO HURTADO
Taking on career-related challenges early on builds an appetite and tolerance for risk taking in ways that can pay off later. For example, embracing the challenge of yourÂ first international assignment will likely build cross-cultural skills you can tap into if you’re asked to lead a diverse, global team. Moving from a cost center to a revenue-generating role, you’ll discover how to motivate yourself and deliver results, which can come in handy if you’re promoted to lead a sales team.
Don’t overestimate risk and underestimate opportunity
In a psychological phenomenon known as “negativity bias,” we tend to overestimate risk and underestimate opportunity; it’s natural to focus heavily upon the negative consequences of what might go wrong.
In this article, Margie Warrell, bestselling author and Forbes contributor, explains that many people tend to underestimate the ability to handle the consequences of risk, while discounting the cost of taking no action at all, which leads them to settle for sticking to the status quo.
IMAGE: FLICKR, BEN STEPHENSON
But there are still actions we can take and mentalities we can adopt to mitigate the risks we naturally tend to avoid.
Sponsors are your safety net
According to the Harvard Business Review study The Sponsor Effect, women in the ranks of upper leadership who have a sponsor are at least 22% more likely to take the risk of asking for a stretch assignment or a raise.
“[Sponsors] connect you to career opportunities and provide air cover when you encounter trouble,” saysÂ Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career, in a recent article. A sponsor is your safety net. And having a seasoned, well-placed executive say “go for it” provides a confidence boost that can get you past the anxiety of leaping into the unknown.
You can increase your chances for finding sponsorship by making your value and ambitions clear to your leaders.
Outperform the requirements of your role, make your goals and achievements known and share those goals with your leaders.
Risk taking can prepare you for future career advancement. And with sponsors in your corner, you can mitigate some of the risk of taking leaps and enjoy an extraordinary career.
Even with the above stepping stones, anxiety and fear might still creep in, but you can’t let it stop you in your tracks. Accept risk as the modern cost of doing business, and learn to embrace it instead of fear it.
“Don’t let your fears own you,” says Oswalt, sharing one of her favorite quotes: “A head full of fears has no space for dreams.”
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