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Risk Being Innovative

Leadership requires bold thinking and a willingness to disrupt the status quo, even when things seem to be going smoothly. Not every innovation works out, of course, but failure to innovate creates stagnation, and stagnation leads to reduced market share and, ultimately, failure. It’s crucial that you support visionary ideas and put them to work. Your enthusiasm for innovation inspires others to support your ideas and 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 executives be innovators and risk-takers. The biggest reason that people are reluctant to take risks is the 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 executives 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:

  • Try out your ideas for innovation on your team. Listen carefully to their reactions. They are the ones who will need to implement your vision. If they are pessimistic, challenge them to come up with better ideas.
  • Choose 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.
  • Think about one risk that you have taken that was successful. Was it a small risk or a big one? What did you do then to overcome your fear of failure? How did others talk to you about the risk? How did you feel when it was clear that you would succeed? Remembering your successful endeavors will help you as you consider undertaking additional risks. The reality is that you may not fail—you may succeed!
  • Innovation involves being willing to hear ideas that may seem crazy or impossible without immediately rushing to judgment. When people tell you their ideas for change, force yourself to say, “That sounds interesting. Tell me more,” instead of “That won’t work.” Even if that idea really is crazy or impossible, people will be encouraged to tell you their other ideas, and one of them might be fantastic!
  • Consider one problem that doesn’t have an easy answer and schedule a meeting to brainstorm solutions. Encourage people to come up with as many ideas as possible, write them all down, and then see what jumps out as being a possible solution. Even if you don’t find the best answer during this meeting, you will be considered an executive who is open to new ideas. Be willing to support a solution to the problem when it comes, and stick with it until you are convinced that the solution will either succeed or fail.  

There is a balance to risk-taking. If you take too many risks or try to change too quickly, your team will be confused and exhausted, so your initiatives may fail. On the other hand, if you are risk-averse and try to take as few risks as possible, your team might be so entrenched that they are unwilling to make changes, even when they are positive. Every executive has his or her own way to find balance in this competency, and it is an ongoing task. Use your skills in (A) Leadership Vision as an anchor for the risk-taking and innovation that you pursue.