Raise your Head above The Parapet? Lesson on Risk Taking

Raise your Head above The Parapet? Lesson on Risk Taking

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.

Asking for Help is a Leadership Quality - Really!

Asking for Help is a Leadership Quality, Really!

Think asking for help is a weakness? Especially if you are a leader? Think about when someone asks you for help, you are usually flattered and feel valued for the contribution you can make. Others often feel the same way. Also, there are few Solo heroes – even Superman had support from Lois Lane. We as humans are social beings, interdependent within organizations and life.

When I was writing my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, I had to ask for help often. I asked coaching clients’ permission to use their experiences as case studies (anonymously), asked target readers to give me feedback, and thought leaders and corporate leaders to endorse the book to name a few. Each time I did that my book was better and the people were grateful I reached out and chose them.

Few jobs or tasks can be done in isolation, organizational structures are complex, people are remote yet connected so there’s actually an inherent expectation in today’s organizations of working together in various forms.

Why is Asking for Help a Strength?

Self-aware – asking for help shows you are self-aware by knowing when you need support or information you don’t have. You are not blind to your gaps in knowledge or behaviour.

Resourceful – asking for help shows you can identify alternate resources to get the job done.

Confident – asking for help shows you are confident enough in yourself and your ability to reach out to others. You can overcome any associated fear. You have humility – you recognize you don’t have all the answers.

Results-oriented – asking for help demonstrates your commitment to getting the job done, to the best of your ability and actually beyond your ability as you involve others’ knowledge and abilities too.

What Stops Us from Asking?

Most of the barriers we have to doing something are self-imposed, few come from external sources and asking for help is no exception.

• Fear of rejection

• Worried about being seen as needy

• Thought of as incapable or incompetent

• Insecurity of not knowing, not being able to handle it on your own

• Personal shame/feeling you’re not good enough

• The issue didn’t seem worthy of getting help


When asking senior leaders to review my book I was fearful of rejection and being seen as needy. I knew I couldn’t write my own reviews or endorsements (obviously), so I wasn’t worried about being thought of as incompetent.

The bottom-line of what stops people from asking for help is vulnerability – being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, at work it’s about being thought less of. Vulnerability and courage are two sides of the same coin. As researcher, Brené Brown, shared in her book, Dare to Lead, firefighters are some of the most courageous people, running into danger, putting their lives at risk which also demonstrates they are vulnerable – to death, injury, risking others’ lives.

The Leadership Benefits of Asking for Help

Beyond the obvious benefit of getting the work done to the best standard possible as you’ve gotten help from someone, there are many other leadership benefits to asking for help such as:

1. Role model the importance of collaborating with others. When a leader asks for help it sets the tone for what’s accepted in the group, and demonstrates that collaborating, getting others involved is acceptable and desired.

2. Enrol others in your ideas and solutions. One of my coaching clients always did things on her own, to her own detriment at times, to appear strong, capable, able to handle anything single-handedly. She got feedback from people that she was closed minded when in reality she loved input from others. She started asking for help to solicit the input she loved, and a side benefit was that she engaged others. It’s worked brilliantly, she’s found people more engage in the projects earlier, gotten better solutions with their input, not only making it better for the business outcome but also easier and more enjoyable for her.

3. Allow people to play to or use their strengths. Not everyone can be good at everything, and ideally your organization has a diversity of skills, talents and abilities. Asking for help allows people to use their strengths not only for their work but to help others’ work. Imagine if everyone in your organization was leveraging their strengths? Happier people and better results.

4. Makes us mentally stronger. When we practice a skill, we get better at it. Asking for help is no exception. It gets us out of our heads to some degree thereby sharing the burden and lightening our load, both in terms of completing the task but also emotionally. This sharing makes us more resilient and saves energy for when we are required to deliver individually.

How to Ask for Help

Sometimes the very expression “asking for help” makes people cringe at the thought of saying it. If it does make you cringe, and we were in a 1:1 coaching relationship, I’d be tempted to probe what caused that reaction in you or how you could say those words in a way (tone, attitude, come from place) with which you could be comfortable (if that was of interest) and I digress.

There are ways to achieve the same end (better results with less personal angst) such as:

1. Have people ‘volunteer’ their strengths. Have your team members share what they are good at and what types of things they could help others with. Having people publicly share their strengths, offering them up to others creates a shared understanding of who can help with what. It opens the door to be of service to another.

2. Ask in a way that feels right for you. There’s lots of ways to ask for help. Can I get your input? What would you suggest about…? Can I bounce something off you? Would you have time to collaborate on…? Can I pick your brain? I’d like an outside perspective please on…

3. Create a buddy system. Rather than asking for help being a one-way exchange, create a give-and-take with another person. Find someone inside or outside your organization who is complimentary to you and create a buddy system for giving each other help. This can work for both intellectual and emotional help.

4. Get clear on what help you need if possible. Identify what the obstacle or problem is that you’re struggling with and therefore what you’d want help with. Sometimes identifying the problem is what you need help with – and that’s good to know when approaching someone so you can articulate “I’d like your assistance identifying a block I’ve encountered in this project.”

5. Get a mentor. Be a mentor. Mentors are people senior to you, outside of your reporting line, even outside your organization, that provide training or advice about career progression and professional development. I’ve done training sessions for formal mentoring programs and the mentors were all volunteers and thrilled/honoured to be involved. They also said the relationships ended up being reciprocal – they learned from their mentees and sometimes asked them for help (on using social media for example).

6. Be genuine. Ask for help when you need it or when it would benefit the project, don’t use it as a ploy to engage people or shirk your responsibilities. People can sense when you’re passing the buck or going to the trough too many times needlessly so make it a win-win – everyone feeling good about their involvement.

In summary, organizations are simply systems of interconnected people designed to achieve a goal, purpose or specific outcomes. Everyone in an organization is dependent on someone for something – payroll to pay you, IT to provide support, manufacturing to produce the product for the customer. Your need for help is no different, how can you engage with others, by asking for help when needed, for better results?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. Where would asking for help make you more effective?

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