When we talk about risk, we’re often looking at the negative side of the equation: the reckless actions that we regret later. But there’s another aspect to risk taking. Without risk, it’s virtually impossible to have reward.
“Fear is a double-edged sword,” says Barbara Stoker, author of “Positive Risk: How Smart Women Use Passion to Break Through Their Fears,” in an interview with Ladies Home Journal. “On the one side it keeps you safe, but it usually holds you back from doing those things that really matter.”
The goal, then, is to find and encourage our positive risk-taking behaviors. Here’s what to look for:
1. Positive risk takers are more informed than rash.
Successful CEOs often seem to fly by the seat of their pants, but nothing could be farther from the truth, according to Rafe Sagarin. In a column on Business Insider, he writes:
“In short, being a successful risk taker means having a sense of the environment that is deep, holistic, and flexible. What kind of handicapper can call up this trifecta? One who works hard at cultivating information. This kind of sense develops from intense observation of the patterns and signals of change in the world around you, and results in an earned degree of confidence when stepping off into the necessarily unknown future.”
2. They take risks only when they need to.
Good leaders don’t pick the riskiest option for no reason. They do their due diligence, get the opinion of trusted advisers, and pick the best time, tools, and people for the job.
3. They look for the middle way.
“Discomfort and uncertainty show up as soon as we engage in the risk. It’s a bitter pill to swallow up front in the hopes of a possible, but not guaranteed, benefit down the road,” consultant Doug Sundheim tells the Toronto Globe and Mail. “Conversely, we experience the costs of avoiding risks further down the road. Low growth, lack of accomplishment, and limited fulfillment take time to manifest.”
Sundheim tells his clients to start with a cost-benefit analysis, both to assess the situation and to offset anxiety. Make a list of the pros and cons of taking the risk, and then minimize the dangers where you can, he advises.
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