“What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?” is never an easy question to answer at a job interview. For a start it assumes that you have taken a few.
I have taken risks in my career, including relocating to another country to take on a newly created position, leaving an organization I’d developed a great career with and my biggest risk to date: leaving the secure corporate world to become an entrepreneur, author and speaker.
For the latter, when I made the decision, I pretty much ignored conventional wisdom — “You’re a woman in her early 50’s with a highly successful career why do you want to give it up now?”
People I spoke to pretty much told me that I’m well respected, I’ve got a great job keep working hard, don’t make a fuss when decisions were being made that I didn’t like and to wait it out!
But whilst doing all of those things, I was becoming more and more despondent in my role and feeling inadequate as a leader as I didn’t believe in the direction I was going.
Most of the women I’ve interviewed for This Woman Can had reached a stage in their careers where they were unsatisfied, each and everyone one of them had worked incredibly hard to reach where they were but they still felt unfulfilled and propelled to take a risk in order to get to their next career goal.
Whilst hard work should be recognized as a career driver, making strategic career moves, which probably have some risk attached should definitely be high on your list.
Having the courage to be put themselves in uncomfortable scenarios is an aspect a lot of women seem to be averse to. The 2019 KPMG Women’s Leadership Study — Moving Women Forward highlighted that when it came to risk-taking in the workplace, 69% of women were open to taking small risks to further their career, but only 43% are open to taking bigger risks that may be associated with career advancement.
Increasingly employers cite courage and risk taking as core leadership skills
As a leader, you naturally have to take calculated risks, from hiring the right persons, to developing strategies that will help your organization deliver on its goals and more. The decisions for each of the aforementioned scenarios will be based on factual information from resumes to company data but in the end unless you have the powers of a crystal ball, the strategies you decide will always involve an element of risk — you just need to decide how much.
The same applies when it comes to your leadership career, playing it safe is not an option if you want to get ahead. I totally understand the double standards and unconscious biases female leaders women face — women in “dangerous” jobs are often criticized for taking risks if they have children while their male counterparts are not subjected to such disapproval — all of which are societal limitations — these in turn lead to women adopting a different approach to risk in comparison to their male counterparts. However, when it comes to your career, your approach should be focused on the outcome.
“How will taking a calculated risk move my career forward?”
What opportunities are you brushing off because it takes you outside your comfort zone? What decisions are you avoiding because you’re scared of what the outcome “could” be? Where do you need to challenge your fear of failure to deliver on your full potential. Where in your career are you playing it safe, whilst your colleagues seem to be leaps and bounds ahead of you?
For women looking to take on leadership roles, avoiding risk in favour of playing it safe could prove the riskier strategy.
Janice Sutherland is an award winning women’s leadership expert and founder of This Woman Can network a community for professional women. She provides coaching and training specializing in helping women and organizations build leadership skills through Executive Mentorship, Leadership Training and Executive Team Facilitation for both corporate executives and entrepreneurs globally. She is a sought after keynote presenter for corporate and nonprofit environments and speaks on issues relating to leadership, women’s advancement, professional success and work/life alignment. For more details, visit www.janicesutherland.com