Risky Business: Preparing to Take Professional Leaps
By: Ashley Warren
Ashley Warren is an MLT MBA Prep Alum and a 2020 graduate of Duke University Fuqua School of Business. Through healthy risk-taking, Ashley has advanced her career from Special Assistant to Engagement Lead for Global Services and Solutions at HP.
My laptop’s background displays an image of the one-car garage where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard engineered what would become HP, Inc. along with these words from the latter founder:
“Take risks. Ask big questions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not reaching far enough.”
I truly don’t know that I’ve ever received advice more essential to my development. In fact, I would argue that uncovering the rewards of healthy risk-taking personally and professionally can transform how we work and elevate our quality of life. However, fear of the ambiguous or having an inflated perspective on the potential consequences can hold us back.
Like many habits we cultivate, small steps and time to build momentum open the door for healthy risk-taking to become second nature.
Risks are Relative
A wise MLT Coach once said to me, “Keep your eyes on your own [yoga] mat.”
Whether it was applying to schools, matriculating at Fuqua, or embarking on my first two years at HP, Inc., practicing the concept of not comparing what risk-taking looks like for me, to that of those around me has enabled me to set and achieve ambitious goals.
For instance, there are varying levels of comfort with being more vulnerable at work. The reality is that doing so helps leaders gain visibility into our thought processes and trust our judgment calls. When managers are vulnerable, spaces are created for teams to adopt a growth mindset, to comfortably identify and address areas of improvement, which is the impetus behind talent development.
Build An Ecosystem of Empowerment
Building intuition and confidence through preparation is table stakes for healthy risk-taking. For those of us who have identified as risk-averse at any point in our careers or personal lives, even after doing our homework, surrounding ourselves with trusted advisors can be a game-changer.
When we are brave enough to ask, family, friends, colleagues, former managers, mentors, and sponsors, can remind us of the value our insight brings to a situation when we miss doing so for ourselves. Then it becomes important to flip the question on ourselves and ask: For whom are we creating space to take new leaps?
Asking Thoughtful Questions is Notable Risk-Taking
Practicing emotional intelligence in whatever space we are in can prepare us for asking the thoughtful questions that others around us might have in mind, but don’t verbalize. I remember finally having the courage during a team meeting at Fuqua to question whether we were approaching a case analysis with the same definition for a common business phrase. It occurred to me that asking the group to step back to align on a shared meaning might be interpreted as a nuisance. Yet, I calculated that the risk of standing out in the moment as that person versus us spending hours on an assignment only to miss the critical understanding was well worth it. And my team, thereafter, thanked me for it.
Risk-Taking for the Career Switcher
After nearly a decade of work experience, I left a solid career trek that would have likely led me to direct regional K-12 education operations to pursue my MBA. I eventually gave myself credit for taking the risk. Then, I discovered that working to advance a career post-MBA can feel just as uncomfortable as taking the initial leap. MBA or no MBA, the real power is in carefully reflecting on our journeys, identifying great and small wins, and harnessing the resulting energy towards consistently taking risks to move forward on achieving our goals. We career-switchers add enormous value to spaces where we do not shy away from taking risks.
Beyond No Risk, No Reward
At this point, I have come to understand that not taking healthy risks is truly risky behavior. I would have missed out on promotions, deeper relationships, chances to learn something new, new career options; all things I have needed to be successful. The key to getting started is anchoring in the idea that taking small steps towards becoming more comfortable with risk-taking can lead to the realization of incredibly fulfilling or even necessary outcomes.
What is the next risk you’re willing to take?
Take the next critical step towards expanding your leadership opportunities.
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