Most people spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid risk at all costs. But the most successful people know that major breakthroughs in life, business, science, technology and even politics cannot occur without taking risk.
I listened recently to a podcast called “When to Jump” where Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, described a huge leap of faith she took in her career.
She had two job offers on the table; one from an established company where she would have a clearly defined role, a team to manage and specific goals. Solid and safe.
The other was Google, and the role was to be to manage a team that didn’t exist, did not yet have a clear structure, and where there was little insight into what the job would entail.
Despite this, she loved the culture of Google. But the other company met all the criteria for a good, stable, job. Which would she choose?
In the end, she took a leap of faith and took the job at Google. She ended up creating and managing a team of thousands and set herself up for her current job as Facebook’s COO.
If she hadn’t taken that risk, she may not have ended up where she is today.
Good leaders balance the ability to make decisions based on data, facts and evidence with a healthy appetite for risk when their intuition guides them to.
For example, Jeff Bezos, founder & CEO of Amazon, who is one of my personal role models, does not wait for all the information before acting.
He believes that decisions should be made with only about 70 per cent of the information one needs and that if a company waits for 90 per cent or more of the information it needs, then it’s moving too slowly.
According to Jeff Bezos: “If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is expensive for sure.”
At critical moments in our lives, we are faced with situations where we can either continue on the safe and comfortable path, or embark on something bold and unconventional, which, if it works out, could change the world.
WE SHOULD CHOOSE THE RISKY OPTION
Nine times out of 10, I believe we should choose the risky option. Put another way, I would rather fail while trying to achieve something extraordinary than succeed in achieving something that is simply ordinary.
Let me be clear: taking a leap of faith can be terrifying. Most of the time, you don’t have enough information about what the future looks like.
And that’s an uncomfortable feeling for most people, because — let’s face it— we all wish we could perfectly predict tomorrow.
But here’s the magic: when you take a leap of faith, your eyes become much more open to seeing possibilities. Without the security blanket of certainty, you go into survival mode. You are forced to use your creativity to think of new ways to live, work and thrive. The best ideas, in my opinion, emerge out of this discomfort. Sometimes, when you have limited resources and little room to fail, the only option you have is to succeed.
The most important part about taking that leap of faith is actually making the decision to do so, then fully committing to it.
Once you’ve taken a call, avoid thinking of all the ways it might fail, (analysis paralysis) and instead devote that energy to brainstorming pathways for success. Here too, Jeff Bezos offers some wisdom. He uses the phrase “disagree and commit,” which means that people on teams should certainly be given the chance to discuss, debate, and give input into a decision.
But at some point, the decision-maker has to decide. Not everyone in a team will agree with the decision, but everyone must commit to a successful outcome. If that doesn’t happen, and people continue to focus on the decision they wish had been made, then the team will certainly fail. Energies should rather go into making the decision work, than continuing to spin wheels in endless debate.
So the next time you’re faced with a tremendous opportunity that bears a lot of risk, I urge you to take that risk.? Imagine how the world could look if you are successful. You will find that your greatest opportunities for growth and success will come from those leaps of faith you take.
Do you need to take a leap of faith? What’s stopping you from going for that job, moving countries, making that bold move, or finally starting that degree?
Fred Swaniker is the Founder of African Leadership University, a pan-African university offering programmes aimed at developing the next generation of African leaders.