Taking chances is a central part of creative leadership

Here’s a simple but important truth: There is no leadership without risk. Every leader is formed by experience, and the experience that most quickly builds a leader’s capabilities is taking risks.

That means pursuing a course of action that takes you and those you lead out of their comfort zones. It means pushing back against the status quo and those who would always take the safe, though less promising path, and having the vision and tenacity to champion a cause with great potential, but no guarantee of success.

I write these words based on long personal experience. I have learned the lessons and experienced the rewards of risk-taking throughout my career, and that’s why it is always an important part of the advice I share with young leaders.


Taking a different path

I’ll share an example to illustrate my point. Early in my career I was a successful lawyer fully engaged in work I was passionate about. I had emerged as a leader in my area of expertise and the future was bright.

Then the opportunity arose to run for public office as a judge. It was a huge risk, primarily because no one who looked like me had ever been elected as judge. But I stepped outside of my comfort zone and accepted the challenge.

I received a lot of support but I also had more than a few conversations in which friends questioned the steep uphill path I had chosen. In the end, I became the first African-American woman to be elected judge in Franklin County history.

I would have never achieved that pioneering position if I had taken the safe path. So, I believe strongly in the power of risk-taking on both a personal and organizational level.


Collective impact and risk

Currently, the central Ohio community is in the first stages of developing a collective impact effort with a diverse group of partners to reduce poverty and help everyone thrive.

Collective impact happens when a core group of people or organizations come together around a shared goal with a common set of strategies and methods.

That may sound simple but it requires a huge and long-term commitment from everyone. It means redefining your organization’s role to align with the work of others and coordinating with your partners so that efforts are reinforced, not diluted or duplicated.
It’s a big risk. But I believe there is a much bigger risk — not pursuing collective impact.

Each organization that is part of the effort is doing effective work, but we will not be able to tap into the true power that mobilizing our community can produce until we come together around a common goal.

Taking on the risk of trying something new is daunting; especially when it significantly changes the way you do business. The ability, however, to thoughtfully weigh the potential rewards and make the bold decisions that lead to a new level of success is one of the most important qualities a leader can possess.