Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Taking a Risk by Michelle Kunz

In life we don’t get what we want, we get in life what we are. If we want more we have to be able to be more, in order to be more you have to face rejection. -- Farrah Gray

To use fear as the friend it is, we must retrain and reprogram ourselves...We must persistently and convincingly tell ourselves that the fear is here--with its gift of energy and heightened awareness--so we can do our best and learn the most in the new situation. -- Peter McWilliams, Life 101

Perfection is fear.
Excellence is taking a risk.

This pair flows nicely from the first of the series. If perfection is committed to being right at all costs, fear is a natural result of striving to maintain that position.

There are many aspects of fear experienced by those in leadership positions:
  • Fear of failure is perhaps the most widespread. If I fail will I lose my job? The respect of others? Backing? Credibility?
  • Fear of the unknown freezes us in mindless repetitions of past-relevant contexts. If we change some things, won't we have to change everything? If it's already working well enough, why mess it up? Why should we go in this new direction?
  • Fear of success is a subtle yet powerful block which affects many who are amazingly creative and talented. If I am successful, how will that success change the other areas of my life? If I am as successful as I dream I could be, how will I possibly sustain that long term? If I am successful and then fail, how will I live with the embarrassment?
  • Fear of rejection is a huge motivating force (for inaction) for many people. If I try this and they don't like it, how will I deal with the rejection? If they reject me/my product, does that mean they don't like me? Why should I propose this new idea if it is going to be rejected anyway?
  • Fear of losing ________ can cripple the otherwise motivated. If I lose my job/relationship/savings/self-respect/______ how will I ever continue on?

In the coaching partnership we eventually have a conversation around fear of some kind. Inevitably the client shares the common experience that something inside, experienced as self talk, or someone else's voice (often a parent or other authority figure) talking, begins chattering in very negative language whenever fear is present. That chatter can take many forms, but usually is some variation of the following:

  • "Who do you think you are?"
  • "You can't do this."
  • "You aren't capable."
  • "You should know better."
  • "This will never work."
  • "You're going to fail/look foolish/lose everything."
  • "Who are you kidding? Everyone knows you're a fake."

Negative self talk is incredibly damaging and blocking. While it is often difficult to shut it up entirely, it is not difficult to change its influence. Furthermore, self talk can shed light on very important aspects of our self and what motivates us (to action or inaction). Through the coaching partnership, the client is able to very closely examine the nature of such self talk, acquire greater self awareness, and replace it with new, empowering talk that over time can turn negative energy totally around where fear is concerned.

Why take risks?

Risks are where all the creative ideas lie. Nothing invented, discovered or created has ever been attempted without some degree of risk. To court risk is to court possibilities and excitement. Risk is where the future lies.

So how does a leader encourage appropriate risk taking? By leading the way. Modeling is a strong teacher as well as motivator. When your team observes you taking risks, failing, and taking more risks informed by the previous attempts, they will feel safer doing the same.

The more freely you can discuss your failures and share your experiences around that, the more willing your team will be to openly confront their own failures. This is itself a risk. Admitting where we made the wrong choice, and how we felt about the results is a vulnerable position to take. Powerful leaders know how to make this the starting position. They share the experience of failure and reframe it as they shift the energy from the past (what happened and how they felt at the time) to the present (what we have learned and where this leaves us now) and, more importantly, the future (what we are going to do with that new information to allow us to take another more informed risk).

As we learn to be comfortable with risk, we move from being blocked by our fear to using our fear to ignite our creativity and passion. Our drive for excellence moves to the foreground and our ability to lead with engaged, empowered vision grows. People are drawn to our values of excellence, passion and engagement and we no longer experience fear in the old way, for we know that every failure teaches us something that brings us closer to blazing success.

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