Innovation and taking risks are why you became a leader

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”— Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa.

This remarkable quote appeared near the end of my column last month, which examined the considerable power that business leaders have to change the world. And here’s a statistic to drive that point home:

Economists have calculated that 50 percent of U.S. annual GDP growth is attributed to increases in innovation, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. It’s the dreamers and the entrepreneurs who are willing to step out and try new things to grow their businesses who are responsible for half of our country’s annual economic growth.

It takes a lot of work, of course, to reshape a business. There is also plenty of risk, especially if what you’re doing now seems to be working. And yet, isn’t that why you became a leader? The thought of blazing a new path for your business that attracts more customers and creates additional revenue streams should excite you. If there are obstacles to be overcome along the way, that’s even better.

It’s that innate sense of curiosity and willingness to confront challenges that makes you who you are, says Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline.com.

“Entrepreneurs tend to stop when they see a problem,” Hoffman says. “They ask the following questions: First, they say, ‘Does this bother anybody but me?’ If the answer is yes, then they go to the second question: ‘Is there already a solution out there that I just don’t know about?’ Then they do the research. If there is no solution, they say, ‘I’m not leaving until this thing is fixed.’”

You have a unique gift to make things happen. It’s what enabled you to build a career and become a leader. When you stop reaching for new opportunities and become willing to settle for the status quo, you lose your edge.

Sometimes, however, it’s not a lack of resolve to try new things that holds us back. Instead, we find ourselves waiting to be inspired. We’ll know a great idea when we see it, we might think to ourselves. We become passive innovators, biding our time until that momentous occasion when we learn what we’re supposed to do next.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way and neither does business.

You’ll probably have to connect some of the dots yourself and answer difficult questions in order to keep everything moving forward. You can’t get discouraged when doubt starts to creep into your mind. It’s all part of the process.

So challenge yourself to reimagine your business model. You simply can’t expect that what you’re doing today will be good enough to compete in tomorrow’s economy. The work it will take to meet this ambitious goal won’t be easy and could even be a little scary. That’s just a sign that you’re on the right track.

Fred Koury is president and CEO at Smart Business Network