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No guts, no glory: Take a career risk

Monday, September 5, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Alicia Whitaker

What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done? The biggest risk you’ve taken?

For many people, the answer isn’t “jumping out of a plane,” or “climbing Mount Everest.” The answer is related to their career.

Related: How to ask for and get what you want

Risk is in the air these days, for many reasons. Economic volatility, terrorism and the uncertainties of the presidential election probably top the list. But for many of us, the biggest risks we take have to do with how we manage our careers. Organizations, career paths, skill requirements and jobs are changing, requiring us to find new paths with few clear role models, roadmaps or tools. There are real risks that we want to avoid, but many perceived risks are just that: A story we tell ourselves about how bad the downside could be.

Some of us are natural risk-takers and plunge right in, while others would rather lose an opportunity than take what they believe to be a career risk. The theme of NEW Leadership Summit 2016 is “All in to Win” and its learning sessions are focused on doing whatever it takes to win, however we individually define “winning.”

The short of it is “No guts, no glory” rings true, especially in terms of fostering our career growth and happiness. Taking on challenges and asking for what we want often make the difference in terms of how we are seen as leaders and professionals.  We stand out when we innovate, turn things around or improve things in a major way.

But women typically put pressure on themselves to be perfect, 100-percent prepared and humble and hope their good work will stand for itself. We know intellectually this is faulty thinking, that successful men know they’re not perfect and fully prepared, but “go for it” anyway, learning on the fly and depending on their networks to help.

As an executive coach, I’ve heard many variations on the theme of  “I can’t risk X if ..." 

  •  “If I tell my boss I want a new assignment, she may think that I’m ungrateful for the opportunity I’ve had in this job.”
  •   “If I take this new assignment and don’t do well, I may lose my job.”
  •  “If I ask for a raise, I may be seen as arrogant.”
  •  “If I take the promotion, understanding that I don’t have all the skills I need, I may fail very visibly.”

Are any of these kinds of thoughts holding you back?

Most of us would challenge a friend with these thoughts to understand why her own thinking is limiting her chances for a good outcome. We would help her assemble facts that are helpful in making a case for herself and rehearse a conversation so that she comes across as knowledgeable, confident and open for dialogue. We would help her put the risk in perspective so that she can increase the likelihood that she’ll achieve her goal.

Friends, peers and mentors can give us the push we need to take a risk. But in many cases, women already have the answers a friend or mentor would lead them to —they just need a push. Common sense and trust in ourselves can lead us to take the risks that will help us to move forward.  

As a principal with Whitaker Associates, Alicia Whitaker partners with top leaders to initiate and execute bold changes in how global talent is managed and developed.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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