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How to Build a Culture that Encourages Risk-taking

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When Nik Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope, the feat itself was overshadowed by Wallenda’s decision to defy the television network and remove his tether at the last minute. His reason:  The Flying Wallendas are not thrill-seekers; they are prepared professionals taking reasonable risks.

The public’s response to Wallenda’s defiance was not surprising—most people agreed that they would have stayed tethered. While the risks we take may not be as perilous as Wallenda’s, if we know that there is a safety tether in place, we’ll feel more secure knowing that if we fail, we can always try again.

Great Leaders Know

Great leaders know that penalizing too severely for failure will actually stunt growth and innovation. No matter how great the risk may be, it’s crucial for leaders to know how to “catch” their people by giving them enough space to fail, learn and try again. This in turn will inspire them to try new things—knowing there is a safety tether in place—and help to create a culture of trust and support.

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What Message Will You Send?

It’s difficult to know if failure will be the consequence of taking a risk. With the constant need to compete and excel in today’s world, it’s important be supportive of your people when they take risks. By doing this, you’ll be able to unleash your team’s potential and watch your company soar to new heights.

Tips for Leaders to Promote Risk-taking 

  1. Limit the Downside = Affordable Loss  – Risk comes in many shapes and sizes. The key is to be clear about the limits e.g. time spent on task, level of dollar investment, the positive impact of success and acceptance from the beginning if the risk does prove out. Growth leaders call this “affordable loss”. You agree and limit the downside while opening and exploring the upside.
  2. Have Your Back” Support – People are generally risk-averse. They fear losing their credibility, putting their job at risk and fracturing relationships. Successful leaders support their people through the ups and downs, and their people know their back is protected as they step out and try new things.
  3. Embrace Imperfection – We all strive to be perfect. It’s a fact of life. But in the world of risk-taking, there are no perfect answers and many times no predictable outcomes. To create a culture of risk-taking, the conversation must embrace the notion of “good enough is good enough” and allow the imperfection of not know everything free up people to move forward in an uncertain world of risk-taking.
  4. Celebrate the Journey – Great leaders value wins AND losses. They know that some of the most valuable – and memorable – lessons are those that didn’t work out. A very successful growth leader once said that “living each step”, looking for the silver lining in every risk was the way to enjoy – and be inspired – by taking solid, affordable risks. As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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