How I Used Risk-Taking to Advance My Senior Leadership Career

If you’re not taking calculated risks in your career or business you’re likely to be at risk for being overlooked, under-paid, under-valued and under-employed. Taking calculated risks is a great career development and career management tool and one of the best pieces of career advice I give to my clients.

I’ve accelerated my senior leadership career by taking risks. A prime example is that almost 5 years ago I left a secure 6-figure corporate position because I wanted to be more strategic, more innovative, and more impactful in my work. I wanted to be able to use more of my senior leadership abilities but came to the realization that accepting lateral transfers to fix under-performing departments and taking on new functional roles had reached its limit in terms of my ability to grow my leadership career at that particular organization. I knew that I possessed the skills for more senior leadership and also knew that sitting passively by waiting around for someone to retire or leave the organization to get the opportunity to take my turn at bat wasn’t going to accomplish my goals.

So I had two choices: seek out a senior leadership opportunity with another organization, or go to work for myself. I chose the latter simply because I knew what I wanted to accomplish, the senior leadership skill sets I wanted to leverage, the type of senior leader I wanted to become, and the speed at which I wanted it all to happen. I was convinced that setting my own agenda would get me there more quickly and was willing to take the calculated risk to go after my goals.

Advancing your leadership career often means stepping outside your comfort zone and taking calculated risks.

And guess what?  My risk-taking has been rewarded. Not only have I developed and honed my own senior leadership skills across a variety of industries (by working with various clients and partners) but I’ve had the opportunity through my consulting and work as a part-time faculty member guide the professional development of hundreds of students, corporate leaders, high-potentials and business owners. By creating my own opportunities for senior leadership I’ve been able to take my vision and developed corporate strategies for marketing, communication, business growth, strategic risk management, and joint venture partnerships. I’ve authored three best-selling books and co-authored two others. I’ve appeared in the media (television, radio and print), presented at Board of Trade meetings and international conferences, expanded my professional networks, and have met high-level political and industry movers-and-shakers I wouldn’t normally have had access to. I’m very doubtful that any of that would have happened had I made the decision to play it safe (i.e., being risk-averse).

I’m not alone in using calculated risks to accelerate my career. A recent report found that high-potential women advance more slowly than their male peers, in terms of both career progression and pay, even though they employ career management strategies similar to men’s” and that almost one-half (40%) of women in leadership positions stated that taking risks (by going after difficult and visible assignments) was essential to their career advancement. Another study found that there’s a distinct “double-standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves“.

Many women who want to advance to senior leadership positions are often forced to create their own opportunities.

The fact that companies that promote women to senior leadership positions are 18%-69% more profitable (study of Fortune 500 firms) and have significantly higher levels of organizational excellence (2009 Catalyst report) belies the fact that high-potential women leaders often have a difficult time gaining access to senior leadership positions. Sitting passively by and hoping to get recognized is not the answer. Not only must you Lean In to take responsibility and accountability for own career path, you must Lean in Further to ensure that you develop the skills necessary for senior leadership (if that’s your goal).

Staying in a career path that doesn’t help you to achieve your professional goals or limits your ability to leverage your strengths and talents actually puts you at risk in several ways

4 Ways That Not Taking Calculate Risks with Your Career Actually Puts You at Risk: (click to Tweet)

  1. No Personal or Career Growth: Since you don’t have the opportunity to take on stretch assignments outside of your existing role, you won’t be able to demonstrate that you do indeed possess (or can easily learn) the skills to do more and be a more valuable corporate player. You miss opportunities to stand out and therefore your value to the organization becomes a function of the limited information they know about your abilities and goals. As such, your chances of growing your career is completely outside of your control. You’re likely to be continually passed over for promotion, demoted, or even terminated because higher ups don’t know your value. In fact, many of the high potential women clients I see in my leadership consulting business have experienced being unexpectedly reorged out of a job or have been passed over for promotion more than once.
  2. You Make Less Money Now and In the Future: Settling for a less senior position when you’re capable of doing much more can put a ceiling on how much money you’ll be able to make in the present and over the course of your career. Your current salary is an indication of how much you’ll be able to accrue for your retirement, children’s education, mortgage payments, vacations, caring for elderly parents, etc. As such, your settling for less than you deserve impacts not only you, but your family and those who depend on you.
  3. Emotional and Behavioral Issues: Not being proactive by taking calculated risk runs you the risk of accumulating a number of emotional and behavioral issues. Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, when we feel stuck we’re likely to also feel frustrated, fearful, unmotivated, depressed, anxious, or angry and may even misuse substances (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, licit and illicit drugs) as a coping mechanism. Harboring negative emotions can often end up harming work performance in unanticipated ways. Under-performance issues at work don’t necessarily reflect an absence of specific skills, but often are an indication of deeper dissatisfaction with work. Senior management and HR reps aren’t always aware (or may not care) about underlying contributing factors to under-performance and you may be at risk for being placed on a PMP (performance review program), demotion, or termination.
  4. Less Likely to Take Risks in Other Areas of Life: If you’re not taking calculated risks at work, you’re less likely to take calculated risks in other areas of your life. That can lead not taking advantage of opportunities to challenge yourself and grow your confidence. For example, meeting new people (e.g., networking) requires you to step outside your comfort zone and introduce yourself to new people. Many professionals shy away from networking because they lack the confidence to put themselves “out there”. But meeting new people is a great tool to expand your professional network and can provide valuable information about your industry. As well, taking calculate risks can really expand leisure opportunities that grow your confidence and contribute to your senior leadership mastery.

Take me for example. Here I am zip lining 45 meters over the Mexican jungle at 30 km/hour. Think it’s easy for me? No way! I’m not fond of heights. But taking risks like these increases my confidence and sense of mastery which feeds directly into my ability to face fears and overcome challenges as a senior leader.

My risk taking has been personally and professionally beneficial in a number of ways. I’ve developed my senior leadership competencies far beyond what I’d imagined. Now that I’m looking at opportunities to return to corporate life in a senior leadership role, I have the demonstrated experience and track record to prove what I’ve known all along―that I have what it takes to lead corporate culture rather than just passively following it.  I’m grateful for the risks I took to get to where I am now because they’ve actually have made me a better senior leader than I otherwise would have been.

What’s your experience of taking risks to advance your career? I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading my blog. I appreciate it and Thank You in advance for your Comments. I regularly write about leadership and management, success strategies, women in leadership, overcoming perceived limitations, and overcoming stress, fear and overwhelm on my blog. If you would like to read future posts then please BOOKMARK this website and feel free to also connect with me via LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ or Twitter.

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© 2016 Jacinth Tracey | Wired2Succeed Leadership and Business Consulting |

Jacinth Tracey, PhD is an award-winning leadership and professional development consultant, faculty member in addictions and mental health, international speaker and multiple best-selling author. Her mission is to empower her clients and students to break through barriers to their personal and professional success. Discover more about Jacinth’s products and services.