Is this a good idea?
Do I risk raising my head above the parapet?
What will others think or say?
I felt this way two years ago as I was working with my publisher on my book. Who did I think I was to be writing a leadership book? Was this book even a good idea? Would it help people? What if no one reads it? What if it doesn’t sell? What if people don’t like it? And so many more questions and doubts.
I thought writing the book was hard, then I thought the editing process was hard, then I thought the design and layout was hard. In the end the hardest part was putting it out in the world – putting myself up for judgment – and not the good kind of judgment. I had the fear that it was a bad idea, it not being relevant, being ignored or worse maybe being criticized or ridiculed.
And I did it anyway. That old book from the 80’s, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, was my mantra when I was anxious and doubting myself.
Risk Taking in Business
This same trepidation about taking risks shows up in organizations. This was the discussion of a coaching group I led last week off the back of this question in their 360 reports “Willingness to be the only champion for an idea or project.” There was discussion about the reluctance to speak up in a high-pressure meeting for fear of making a mistake, looking stupid, or becoming a target. CEOs have the same fear of making a mistake (it’s the #2 fear behind fear of being found incompetent) from research by Roger Jones reported in Inc.com.
Calculated Risk Taking – Why is it important?
Organizations need risk takers – not foolish, impulsive risks – rather intentional and purposeful risks. Every organization claims innovation is a key strategy they need to succeed, to keep ahead of competition, to serve clients well. True innovation does not happen without taking risks. The key is calculated risk taking to mitigate any potential issues and increase the likelihood of success.
How did I Overcome the Fear and Take the Risk?
What I did to navigate the fear over writing and publishing my book are the same things you can do in organizations.
• Identify why it matters to you. When you have a bigger WHY it’s easier to overcome the fear and doubt. Remind yourself why this idea or project is important to you and to the organization. Write it out, or draw it, post it close by to give you a vision. Putting my message out into the world mattered because it had practical tips for results-driven leaders that are actually simple. It mattered personally to me because the journey of being more motivating and inspiring rather than so task-focussed was my journey.
My book writing journey started with a 10-day book proposal writing programme offered by a book coach. The programme was designed to produce a proposal for my book for a publisher or literary agent. Writing that proposal felt a bit like the cart before the horse. Upon completion of that proposal I was more committed to my book than before. While articulating the audience for my book and the main ideas of my book in that proposal, it crystalized the vision and benefit of my book and that there was an audience for the models, tools and tips in my book.
• Have support. I had the support of a book coach and was part of a book-writing group that supported each other through the process. They gave me input on the book content and also on my fears and worries. They shared their concerns which made me feel better about my feelings. We were a community of support, ideas and encouragement for each other which fuelled us forward. Find people who can support you with the content of your idea and with the encouragement to take a risk, people who believe in you and your ideas.
• Realize it’s a process. Take one step, the first step. People often get overwhelmed when they think of the WHOLE, BIG PROJECT. Instead, think of one step you can do to advance the idea. Electric cars for example didn’t just materialize overnight, they were broken down into a series of steps, more accurately many series of steps. Focus on the step that is in front of you and take it one at a time.
• Feel the fear. Emotions have information that can be valuable for us to know. When you feel something, notice the emotion and name it (there are many emotion wheels on-line to help you articulate the names of emotions as we aren’t taught emotional literacy at school). What is the message or information in the emotion? That emotion is data for yourself. For example, anxiety can mean you need more support or input to proceed. Frustration often means you have an unmet need so identify that unconscious need and ask for it to be fulfilled.
Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Risk Taking
In organizations and even in families or volunteer groups, calculated risk taking is made easier if you build psychological safety. When there is psychological safety there’s the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation. You can create this by:
Inviting questions and soliciting differences of opinions (eg. If you knew we couldn’t fail, what would you try?).
Promoting self-awareness so people are aware of their impact, potential biases, and triggers.
Offering multiple ways for people to input – verbally in a meeting, in the chat function of a VC, on post-its that are anonymously collected.
Showing concern for people as people as it demonstrates your interest in them holistically and not just on the work-side.
Shutting down gossip, backstabbing, and ridicule whenever it appears makes people know you have their backs.
Sticking my head above the parapet and publishing my book was worth it – this year my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, won The Business Book Award for Business Self-Development!
What could you create if you raised your head above the parapet?
What impact could you have? Or others in your team?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how to help yourself and others take risks for greater innovation, trust and performance.