“Put a grain of boldness into everything you do.” - Baltasar Gracián
My favorite people are the ones who take bold actions: volunteering to lead projects, introducing new technologies that disrupt the daily routine, or offering solutions to their customers – before they’ve built the solution.
What do these people understand? That you must risk failure to achieve success. Playing it safe is dangerous.
It wasn’t that long ago that being successful meant having a steady job, receiving annual raises, and maybe getting a promotion every few years. If you owned a business, you retained your customers’ loyalty by providing a consistent service at a reasonable price. Why rock the boat?
Not everyone followed that model. There was always one person who tried something new. Perhaps they’d apply for a job in another department or branch. Or they’d create a new product or service. Maybe even start their own company. Risk takers.
But if you were comfortable with your salary or profit, why take risks for a little more money? If you tried to leave your department, you might not get the job. If you changed your business model, your customers might go somewhere else. If you were different, you might stand out.
Today, if you don’t stand out, you’ll be left out. Employers and customers want more. Employees are expected to be more than efficient, they need to be innovative. Companies are expected to compete on more than price, they need to add value.
There are no “safe” industries. As a consultant, I work with almost every type of company – banks, insurance companies, utilities, colleges, service bureaus and government agencies. Technology and the economy are forcing everyone to change how they deliver their products and services. The more successful companies go beyond making incremental changes, and introduce radical innovations.
However, radical doesn’t mean reckless. Smart leaders are constantly learning about their industries, about technology, and about themselves. They allocate time to educate themselves through articles, books and seminars. Learning isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.
And these leaders act like chess players. They don’t just think about the next move, but 2 or 3 moves after that. They do more than react to the competition; they consider the long-term ramifications of their actions. Small sacrifices today may set the stage for larger wins tomorrow.
Talented risk takers understand the difference between extending their reach and grasping for something beyond their capabilities. Yet recognizing your limitations isn’t the same as putting limits on yourself. With a realistic understanding of the situation, you can fill the gaps with help from others. Successful leaders understand that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence.
Too many people choose to do nothing because they think the problem is too big to overcome or because they fear failure. But in these cases, the greatest risk is to do nothing.
At first glance, a problem may appear overwhelming. Changing a system that’s been in place for decades is daunting. With technology changing so quickly, learning about vendors and their products means investing hours in research. Implementing new processes will take time, maybe months or even years.
Not taking action means that the problem will never be solved. In most cases, it means that the problem will get worse. The only way to accomplish a difficult project is to begin working on it.
Don’t try and fix everything at once. Break the problem into parts, and prioritize your actions. Build upon your accomplishments and chart your progress. As the proverb states, “The longest journey starts with a single step.”
You’ll probably go through some miscues and setbacks. Don’t use these interim failures as an excuse to abandon your larger goals. Instead, learn from each experience and use that knowledge to overcome the next challenge. Continue driving forward.
Almost 100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt was asked to deliver a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. One paragraph, often referred to as “The Man in the Arena” has been an inspiration to me for decades.