No Risks, No Rewards

 In I Wish I'd Known, Leadership

Each month in 2023, I feature one of my top-ten “Things I Wish I’d Known” when I first started as a manager and leader years ago. This article is my third: No Risks, No Rewards.

Thrill-seekers are motivated by risk. But for many of us, risk takes us out of our comfort zone. Including me!

Many years ago, on a family reunion in the mountains, someone suggested we try something we had never done before.

After we tossed around a few ideas, one of the cousins said, “How about rappelling?” Well, that was it. We were all in!

Rappelling looked like an incredibly fun challenge. As I watched the group before mine, I got even more excited. A few people were a bit nervous. But me? I was quite boisterous, imagining how much fun it was going to be. I just knew it would be no problem.

Then it was our turn. Helmets, check! Harnesses, check! I was fine as I approached the cliff’s edge. But then — taking that first step?


My heart was racing. All at once, the risks of rappelling hit me. I was scared.

Did I really want to do this?!

Fortunately, our guide (one of the cousins) was amazing. He made me more comfortable by explaining what it would be like and showing me exactly what to do.

Once I took the first step off the cliff, I was fine. And I had a blast.

Was it risky? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

By definition, risk is “a situation involving exposure to danger.”

In business, as in life, we’re often presented with opportunities involving risk. Some are higher stakes — or more “dangerous” — than others.

A risk is a leap of faith when you try something new or different. When you start a business, you’re taking a risk. When you hire others, you’re taking a risk. When you implement an innovative idea, you’re taking a risk.

While you envision a positive outcome, you’re also aware of the possibility your idea, plan or strategy won’t work as intended. And there could be unwelcome  ramifications.

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My free worksheet features this month’s theme, “No Risks, No Rewards.”

When I rappelled down the mountain, I knew I was taking a risk. I could slip or fall. Or worse!

On the other hand, I trusted the harness would support me. I trusted my guide knew his stuff. I reminded myself of the many people who rappel every day at this very spot — without incident. I was still nervous, but I let trust overpower my fear.

Is there “danger” in starting out in a management or leadership role? Of course! You could make mistakes. You could lose money for your business. You could fail.

But what about all you stand to gain by taking that risk? That list is going to be a lot longer.

When I started my company over 32 years ago, I knew about the risks. And I chose which ones to take. I’m fortunate my company has experienced steady growth and is thriving.

I’m also aware I’ve passed up opportunities to take it to an even higher level because I wasn’t willing to take certain risks. For example, what if I’d taken on funding for rapid expansion? Or if I hadn’t listened to the naysayers when I wanted to expand or change our business model?

Would’ve. … could’ve … should’ve. But didn’t.

The timing wasn’t right.

Or I didn’t have the time.

Or I didn’t feel I had enough information to go forward.

Or I was simply too afraid.

You get the idea.

I often wish I’d had a mentor or coach early in my career. Someone who could show me the ropes, like the guide who taught me to rappel. Someone to help me assess the risks — and, more importantly, teach me how to decide which risks to take.

And now, what about you?

Whether you’re a manager looking for your next promotion or a business owner seeking to expand your business, moving forward will involve risks.

Will you take them?

Read on for several Power Challenges to help you take your first steps!

Power Challenge 1: Find A Coach or Mentor

When you think about taking a risk, how do you feel? Are you excited? Anxious? Maybe a bit of both?

One of the best ways to learn how to approach risk-taking is to work with a mentor or coach. Someone you trust who can be a sounding board and help you assess – objectively – the risks involved.

Explore your options. Perhaps it’s a former boss you’ve admired as a role model. Maybe someone in a management or leadership position at your company. Or, if your budget allows, an executive or leadership development coach.

After you identify your ideal mentor or coach, determine the structure of the arrangement. Will you want to meet weekly, monthly or as needed?

Then, make the ask. Be clear about how you envision working together. Here’s an example:

“Anne, would you be willing to be my mentor over the next six months as I explore a new business opportunity? If so, I’d love to meet in person or over Zoom twice a month for about an hour to bounce some ideas off you — especially around managing risk — and get your feedback.”

It might feel like a risk to ask someone to be your mentor! But trust me, it’ll be worth the rewards.

Want to become more comfortable taking risks on your own? Start small! Here are a few ideas:

  • Try a new route for your drive home from work — without using GPS.
  • Ask to join a different table of coworkers in the lunchroom.
  • Take a class on a new skill to help advance your career.
  • Present a well-thought-out idea to your manager about how to improve a work process.

As you experience the rewards of taking small risks, you’ll feel more confident to move on to the bigger ones.

Related: The Freedom of Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

If things don’t work out as planned or you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up. Think of the experience as an opportunity to learn — and then get right back on the horse!

Power Question:

Which will you regret more: The risks you take or the risks you don’t?

Power Challenge 2: Reach … and Take a Leap of Faith!

Is there a risk you’re almost ready to take? What’s holding you back from taking that leap?

Chances are, it’s the thoughts swirling through your mind. Mostly fears and “what ifs.”

Here’s the good news: You’re in control of your thoughts, fears and mindset.

Power Quote:

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Try any of these actionable ideas:

  • Tackle imposter syndrome head-on. Stop doubting yourself. You are capable! You are smart! For more on this, see Why Believing in Yourself Is More Important Than You Think.
  • Flip negative thoughts holding you back. For example, replace “I’m not ready” for “I’m prepared enough to take one small step.”
  • Remind yourself of prior risks you’ve taken that led to positive results. In fact, write them down — along with the positive results — so you can see your successes. The list is probably much longer than you realize!

While your mindset matters, it’s not everything. As the stakes get higher, risky decisions require more careful consideration and planning. You need facts. You need reliable resources. You need trustworthy people in your court.

Here are some considerations before taking a next-level risk:

Do you have a financial cushion?

Maybe you dream of leaving your job in search of a better opportunity. Or starting your own business. Great! At least in theory. The reality is bold moves like these pose at least some financial risk.

Do you have enough money in savings or another source of income to live comfortably until you land the new position or your business starts turning a profit?

Do you have a backup plan?

No one plans to fail, but things happen. The economy shifts. Companies downsize. Demand for products or services wanes.

What happens if Plan A doesn’t pan out? Do you have a Plan B?

Do you have a support system to encourage you?

When you take a risk, you step onto an emotional roller coaster.

It’ll be fun! It will feel disappointing. It’ll be exciting! It will feel hard. Sometimes all in the same day.

Who will you turn to for emotional support through these ups and downs?

Do you have a team of experts you can call for help in areas outside your expertise?

You don’t have to know it all. Find people who specialize in areas you need help navigating: a financial advisor or accountant; a marketing, human resources or technology specialist; maybe a professional coach, to name a few.

These people can give you expert advice and set you up with the tools you need to manage the risks that come with opportunities.

Reach for the Rewards

It can be scary to take a risk.  Especially if you’re doing something you’ve never done before!

I get it … I’ve been there. And to be honest, I’m still there at times.

The difference is how I approach risks now compared to earlier in my career. I’m more confident. More strategic. More resilient.

And more aware that had I not embraced certain risks, I would’ve missed out on reaping some incredible rewards.

If you are a new manager, leader or business owner, be patient with yourself as you develop the skills, experience and comfort level to take the right risks.

The rewards are out there, waiting for you!

Need a speaker for a business event or training?

Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.

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