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Innovation and Risk-taking

You don’t have to be an Angela Merkel or a Nikola Tesla to make a difference in your organization. Anybody who pays attention can see things that can be improved. Maybe it’s a work process that can be streamlined, or a new customer group that can be approached. Managers who are open to new ideas and are willing to take risks to make things better gain the respect of their team members, are more quickly promoted, and develop a reputation as “go to” people for the development of new ideas.

Leadership requires bold thinking. Not every innovation works out, of course, but failure to innovate creates stagnation, and stagnation leads to reduced market share and, ultimately, failure. So, it’s crucial that you support creative ideas and put them to work. Your enthusiasm for innovation and risk-taking encourages others to support your ideas and to help you implement them.

Risk-taking doesn’t come naturally to everybody. If you are a person who prefers a more stable, risk-averse situation, you will need to make an effort to change this attitude. The realities of work in the 21st century require that managers and leaders be innovators and risk-takers. The biggest reason that people are reluctant to take risks is fear of failure. The truth is that everybody fails. Everyone makes mistakes. Your challenge is to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them. Effective leaders choose to innovate and take risks, and they don’t allow their fear of failure to stop them.

If innovation and risk-taking are not your strong suits, here are some tips you might consider:

  • Take a personality inventory to determine your personal style. Understanding what holds you back from taking risks is your first step in changing.
  • Tell your manager that you are interested in taking more risks in your job. Garner support for this behavior, and get an idea of how far from the status quo you may stray and still be supported.
  • Decide one area for innovation that you want to champion. Break down the innovation into its component parts, and decide how far you can go before you will have to make a decision about whether your innovation is likely to succeed. You may find that, if you divide the innovation or risk into segments, each step is not so scary. And you will have the opportunity to make changes as you go along.
  • Ask your team members to come up with ideas for innovations that would improve their work processes. When they present the ideas to you, do not automatically say “no,” even if the ideas seem stupid to you. Instead, brainstorm with them to find improvements that are likely to be successful, and then support them as they implement the changes. You may find that your team members come to you more often with good ideas.
  • If thinking about taking risks at work is still too scary, consider areas in your personal life that could use some change. Maybe you’ve thought about taking up a new hobby, or you would like to alter your appearance in some way. Now is the time to make those changes, no matter how small. Risk-taking is a learned behavior, and you have to start somewhere. You may find that you actually enjoy it, and the ability to take informed risks can then successfully transfer to your work situation.

If you pay attention, you will notice that good ideas are everywhere. Effective managers and leaders aren’t always exceptional innovators or legendary risk-takers on their own, but they recognize good ideas when they see them and support those skills in others. If you encourage innovation and risk-taking in your team, everyone will benefit.