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Using Risk to Catapult your leadership

This blog is a revised and updated version of a previously published blog.



Risk is scary and often viewed as a negative action, one taken by flippant playboys with nothing to lose or gain, something done for effect. But, risk can be calculated and healthy in a business or your career. Entrepreneurs are perhaps some of the best-versed professionals in taking risks.


Running nonprofits, I quickly learned taking risks was part of remaining relevant. Nonprofits who maintain the same programming, because it works, eels safe, and donors like it, soon lose their relevance. If one is to remain true to the purpose of a nonprofit, one must take risks. The purpose of a nonprofit is to answer a need or fight a social justice issue. A true nonprofit professional understands the need to be connected to the community they work within, this community will always tell the nonprofit what changes need to be made and when a program is no longer needed. But to do this, to listen to the community served, takes strength and courage.


Often the programs needed are so new, donors shy away from them, foundations are unwilling to give money to a program they deem risky. But good leaders create a vision from the need, and with the backing of their staff, forge ahead with only the community they support behind them. This is a true risk. Nonprofits exist because of the willingness of large corporations or foundations to fund them, individual donors play a large part in the financial health of nonprofits too. he true risk is designing a needed program and forging ahead.


The risk in for-profit organizations is similar. The people who make the most money, are the best known or have the most identified brand, are skilled risk takers who are not afraid to lose it all. Richard Rawlings, owner of the Gas Monkey Garage is a skilled risk taker. He has made his mark by moving fast and risking it all. This business model has bankrupted Rawlings, but it has also made him the successful businessman he is. Every setback has taught Rawlings something, every success has taught him what not to do. The key to the success of Rawlings is his ability to learn from his risks, both good and bad, and apply these lessons to future endeavors.


Richard Branson is another skilled risk taker. Branson, never afraid to move on to the next venture, to try something new, has lost millions, gained millions, and influenced generations. Branson, like Rawlings, takes risks and learns from the successes and failures. Both businessmen are skilled risk takers, who learn from every aspect of their businesses.

What is the common theme among these men and successful nonprofit leaders? Their ability to learn from mistakes, their resiliency, and their lack of fear. Perhaps it is not a lack of fear, rather, it is the ability to make educated risks, based on past successes and failures knowing they have the strength to be resilient in the face of failure. Rawlings and Branson made their brand, their brand is them, not the other way around. I would argue if Rawlings and Branson lost their trademark brands today, they would return stronger than ever tomorrow because of their resiliency and ability to bend with change and take risks.


The lesson to be learned is the value of learning in every situation, both good and bad. Leaders are constantly evolving, never settling in complacency. Taking risks allows leaders to learn more about themselves, realize their potential and meet goals. A life of safe choices is boring and never reaches true potential. True potential only comes from failures, for it is from the bottom we clearly see the top, it is in these moments all becomes clear, and we see the path we are to follow.


Learn to take risks. Identify leaders who have attributes you would like to have and study them. If at all possible, meet them, ask them deep questions and learn from them. Examine your past, identify your failures and successes, what can you learn from these moments? How can you be a stronger leader? Risk will allow you to reach your true potential. Go ahead, take the next step.


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