Take a risk to challenge your status quo

by Aubrie Field

Being a leader is about being a problem-solver. And leaders can’t solve problems without challenging the status quo: the “existing state of affairs.” Often, that means taking risks and opening yourself up to the possibility of failure.

We have to take risks to evolve and innovate – for ourselves, for society, and for the world at large. But we have to be careful how we do it. The prospect of failure and the consequences that could result should give us real pause. So how do we know which risks to take? When? How?

There are no hard and fast rules in the game of risk-taking. That’s part of the challenge. But there are certainly guidelines and ways to minimize the damage potential. For starters, you can’t risk too much all at once. It’s important to understand how much risk you can take on at any one time. Then we can assess what could go wrong, weighing pros and cons. Through this analysis, we can prioritize the right risks, mitigate potentially debilitating pitfalls and guard against missteps.

It’s also helpful to remember that we don’t have to take major risks right off the bat; we can start small. By taking smaller chances with less risk, we can build confidence and practice facing fears – which ties into one of our key leadership concepts: “To overcome fear, you must keep running at it. It’s like working out. The more you do it, the more you want to do it and the more you can do it.”

Each time we take on a bigger risk, we are adding to and building a foundation of risk-taking that makes us strong and resilient. Over time, taking ever-greater risks, we reap ever-greater rewards. Just ask our Founder and Chairman of Unlocking Potential, Carly Fiorina.

When Carly was in her early 20s, she took a risk by dropping out of UCLA Law to the utter disappointment of her parents, with whom she was close and always wanted to make proud. She was challenging her own status quo. Her father was a federal judge. It was the hardest decision she’d ever made at that point – risking the loss of a world-class education as well as her parents’ respect. But the reward of following her heart, crystallizing her independence, facing her fears, and reveling in the strength it took her to do so, far outweighed the consequences.

Decades later, Carly challenged a much bigger status quo - by going through with a large-scale, business merger that was fiercely opposed by influential board members and shareholders. The risk was significant and life-changing; on the line was her job as CEO and the judgement of the business world. But because she had practiced running at fear and challenging the status quo in bigger and bigger ways throughout her career, she was more prepared to take on this monumental risk in order to do the right thing and save the company.

But you don’t have to be the first woman CEO of Fortune 50 company to take risks. We can all challenge the existing state of affairs, and it begins with our own. Remember, we can start small.

For me, wearing a bright lipstick is risky. It’s not my usual look. It makes me a little uneasy. What if people judge me? Or think I’m trying too hard? But what more often accompanies my bold move is accolades for my risky choice. “Great color on you!” a colleague will say. Or, “You’re so brave! Only you can pull off that shade!” And with the extra confidence boost, I find that I take bigger risks.

Every time we take these little risks and realize the sublime payoff that follows, we feel invigorated and empowered to take bigger ones, toppling other status quos that are no longer serving us.

Today, it’s a magenta lip. Tomorrow, it’s talking to an attractive stranger, or standing up to a bully, or approaching your boss for that promotion you’ve been eyeing. No matter how big or small, each time you challenge the status quo – yours or a company’s or society’s – you’re being a leader. It’s how we evolve. It’s how we innovate. It’s how we problem solve. It’s how we lead.

Taylor Enders