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The greatest threat to our business success is and remains our fear of strategic risks. Think of some of the biggest companies that have failed to turn around or innovate. As they maintained the status quo, disruptors and innovators took over, forcing many of these companies to shut down for good. If 2020 has taught me anything, it has encouraged me to make difficult decisions quickly, dream in ways that challenge my confidence, and be aware of my business.
Think about the last time you had the chance to grab another chance, be vulnerable, or be so present as a business owner that people come before profit. How did you react? Have you accepted fear or courage? “Take the risk or lose the chance” is a mantra I've lived by for years. It created opportunities and partnerships and heightened my awareness as a manager and entrepreneur.
Why are we inherently opposed to taking risks?
There is science to taking a risk. In The Art of Risk, author Kayt Sukel does an excellent job on this point. The decision-making areas of the brain consist of about 80 percent of excitatory cells and 20 percent of inhibitory cells. In children, the excitation cells are dominant, which means that children are generally more willing to take risks and try new things. Have you ever told a child not to touch a hot pan just to see how they do it and screams in pain? We can thank the excitatory cells for this. As we get older, our inhibitory cells start to take over, so as we get older we hesitate to take risks. The more hot pans we touch (sometimes we are burned professionally, financially, etc.), the more our inhibiting cells convince us to stay on our track. There are a few other experiences that feed our fear.
Imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persists despite apparent success. Before we decide to take risks, we are faced with cognitive, emotional, and experiential barriers that tell us we shouldn't. Once I realized this, it was only a matter of time before I could create a system that would allow me to see beyond my fears and take strategic risk in order to move forward. There are three guiding principles that have helped me over the years that have enabled me to effectively self-assess opportunities by addressing my cognitive and emotional responses so that I can identify and acknowledge when a risk is worth taking if it is not.
Related: How to Take the Right Risks
How important it is to be brave and vulnerable
This principle is all about walking, speaking, and engaging as your authentic self. When you are aware of your skills and abilities as a leader, make sure that you are not going to take opportunities just to take them. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, ask yourself whether that opportunity aligns with your overall goals. Will the opportunity expand you or add new skills, and what are you willing to give up in order to take the opportunity? I like these questions because they define us as entrepreneurs. First, it is about how we will support our long-term strategy, second, how we will support our growth, and third, it forces us to recognize the impact of work on family, society and business.
Being brave and vulnerable increases our awareness and ensures that we act consciously on how we involve others. The most important step in taking risk is taking it on the ground and taking the risk from a place of clarity. When we approach opportunities with clear minds, we can quickly make decisions that will enable us to overcome them or embrace them with confidence. This allows us to keep the momentum and strengthens our ability to make difficult decisions. It helps get rid of the cheat syndrome that we can feel when we take new opportunities. When we're vulnerable and brave, we've brought up the idea of not being good enough. We have recognized our strengths and our opportunities, and we understand how opportunities will help us grow in the areas where we need them most.
Be brave and curious
A child's most powerful tool is willingness to ask "why". A child's curiosity is the vehicle that drives their growth. It is also the spark that continues to nourish their excitatory cells, leaving them with a thirst for more knowledge and experience. As entrepreneurs, we fulfill our wish to be courageously curious by starting our own business or by winning a new customer, even when we are busy. To be boldly curious means to look for opportunities before the door closes. When I was younger, my mother had an expression that stuck with me as an adult: "Books can open doors without a lock." As a kid I didn't understand the phrase but as I got older I realized that the more I learned, the more I read, the more questions I asked, the braver I was and I soon understood that every opportunity begins the questions who, what or when. We build the courage to answer these questions by being vulnerable brave and brave curious. Without the courage to ask tough questions, many of us would never have entered the world of entrepreneurship.
Related: How to Use Risk as Opportunity to Increase Profits
Care enough to connect
There have been many times that I've been in a room and 100 percent disconnected from what was happening. As a leader, I've moved through the day checking off my to-do list just to miss opportunities to connect with others or my team. This has resulted in taking risks I shouldn't have taken, soliciting feedback from people who weren't up to my best, and embracing other people's experiences out of context. When we fail to truly connect with others, we are prone to fear and find that we are taking other people's experiences and making them our own. We need to give ourselves permission to be fully present in engaging others and understand that human collisions are essential to growth. In building our personal and professional network, it is important to make others feel that they are important beyond a transactional relationship. When we are aware of the way we connect, we are more likely to receive valuable feedback when we need it.
These principles have enabled me to see when a risk is worth taking and when it is not. While taking risks is never an easy decision, it will prove beneficial to build your confidence to effectively evaluate each opportunity. Being brave and vulnerable means that you are ready to take the risk and rely on your abilities to be successful. Courageously curious means following your call to action as a leader and entrepreneur. When connecting is important to us, we create a reliable network of supporters who will keep us on the right track and encourage us to take the risk or lose the opportunity.
Related: Entrepreneurs aren't risk seekers – they just deal better with risk