Coach’s Challenge for 2/24/13 “Taking A Risk”

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about taking a risk. After an intense three days in Los Angeles, where I attended an executive coaching training program, I have emerged with a deeper understanding of what it means to take a risk.

I play it pretty safe. Now that I’m into my sixth decade, I’ve observed that I’m pretty conservative about the way I live my life. I keep money in savings. I try not to spend too much and pay off my credit cards each month. I stay in touch with family and friends, sometimes not as often as I’d like. I get just enough exercise and try to eat what’s good for me. I try to use the advice my father gave me of “everything in moderation.”

In my business, I’m the same way. I made sure I got a good, solid coaching education before I went into the business. I use many of the same tools I’ve used for years that are tried and true. I rely on referrals for new business (no major marketing campaigns for me!), and I don’t charge my clients too much for my services compared to many in my profession.

Many of my clients play it safe as well. They go to work each day to jobs that are pretty demanding at times but that don’t require huge changes in how they approach their day-to-day challenges. Some of my clients take more risks in their jobs than others, depending on the demands of their role in the organization, but these people sometimes tend to play it safe in their personal lives. I remember one client saying to me, “I have no problem taking risks when I’m negotiating a deal for the company, but when it comes to my personal life, no way!” Perhaps one of the tenants I learned in my training is true: We tend to attract people whose values are similar to our own.

Occasionally, I work with folks in startup companies who love the energy that comes from taking risks. For them, taking a real risk might mean sitting quietly for a day rather than letting the startup pace speed them through one task after another. What would they do if they couldn’t get swept up in that momentum for a day? What would it mean to just stop for a day? Pretty risky proposition for someone who loves the speed and high intensity of a startup.

Over the past week in my coaching training, something began to dawn on me. How long had it been since I had taken a risk? When I changed professions from recruiting to coaching, I took a risk. Most of my recruiting clients didn’t even know what coaching was (I’m not sure I knew what coaching was back then) because the profession was in its infancy. Try telling a customer who’s come to you for one service that he or she really needs a different service. You get a lot of “not interested” comments in return.

I took a risk when I pulled up stakes in California after 20 years and moved to Oregon. I only knew a few people in Portland, and I knew very little about the city or its culture. But I remember distinctly knowing that leaving the Bay Area was what I needed to do. I just wasn’t at all sure that Portland was the right place to land.

Taking those risks changed my life for the better in more ways than I imagined. It wasn’t as though everything in Portland turned out to be perfect. There were lots of challenges and obstacles to overcome — plenty of scary moments when I thought, “What have I done?” or “Why did I do this?”

What I see in retrospect is that the hardest part of taking the risk was changing how I looked at the losses and gains. Taking a risk requires a change in mindset. You have to go from focusing on what you’ll lose to what you’ll gain. You have to keep your mind on the benefits that taking the risk can bring, rather than focusing on the losses. And it means not allowing yourself to wallow in regrets when things don’t go exactly as you hope they will. My good friend Kimberlee completely changed her life five years ago when she left a high-powered corporate job and moved to southern France. She recently wrote on her blog, “After years of saying, ‘If only,” I’m now saying, ‘It’s only.’” (Read the full blog post at http://noregretsforme.blogspot.com.) Being comfortable with risk means forgiving and letting go of what used to be and allowing what can become. It’s seeing that taking a risk doesn’t mean your life is coming to an end.

This past week, I realized that the time is right to take some risks in my business. I went to the training looking for some new tools to sharpen up my coaching. What I received was a totally new way to offer my services and run my business. Many of the ideas and processes that the trainers shared changed my perspective on coaching. For example, I learned that without regular input from your major stakeholders, your direct reports, your boss, your spouse, the incentive to actually change behaviors isn’t strong enough. Coaching is really all about helping people change the behaviors that are preventing them from being successful.

The use of 360-degree feedback is prevalent in most organizations because it’s a way to get feedback from your stakeholders on how you’re behaving. But just like performance reviews, you get this feedback only once or twice a year. The traditional 360 process has many other pitfalls, too, such as people spending more time trying to guess who the anonymous feedback came from rather than thanking people for their suggestions, or no checks and balances to follow up and see if the person receiving the feedback is actually making changes.

As a coach, when I work with people after they’ve received their 360 feedback, they often focus almost exclusively on the negative comments they received. They generally try to defend themselves with, “They just don’t understand me” or “I know they don’t like me and are trying to sabotage me.” Even the suggestions they think are worthwhile generally only get put into place for a little while before they return to their more comfortable ways of behaving. Net-net: There’s no permanent change in behavior.

In my training, I learned a process that actually ensures behavioral change. Yes, it takes a year to do it, and there are parts of it that can be tedious — because it’s very methodical. But everyone is involved in the process of improvement, and in the end, the entire team wins. So it’s a win-win for the person being coached and all the stakeholders.

This endorsement makes it sound like I can just immediately begin adapting this new approach. But it will be risky, so I’m now faced with the question of whether or not I’m willing to take the risk. What could I lose by doing this and what could I gain?

I believe if we ask for something, we get it. It doesn’t always come packaged the way we imagine it should be. I hoped for a husband that would be 6 feet 2 inches tall and blond. Instead, my husband is 5 feet 9 inches tall with dark hair. But I got what I really wanted and needed: someone who truly loves me. There’s power in asking for what you really want, and if you’re sincere, then taking the risks needed to get it and not getting stuck on what you think it should look like or how it should be will become part of the commitment you make to yourself.

I’ve asked for this opportunity to take a risk. I hate to admit it because it makes me fearful to think of making fundamental changes in my life. But I also know that when I’ve done this in the past, I have gained so much more than I ever imagined possible. It won’t be easy, but as Chaucer wrote, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

This week, ask yourself, “When was the last time I took a risk?” When did you force yourself out of the comfortable nest you were in to take your first flight? How long has it been since you took a completely different approach to how you do your business or launched headlong into a project that you know will confront you with challenges and obstacles along the way? Rather than focus on what’s preventing you from taking a risk, how about spending the week identifying something you’d really like to do but have been too afraid to attempt? Then take one step toward making it a reality.

Here are four wonderful quotes about risk-taking that I share with you this week to encourage all of us to take a risk.

“People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.” ~ Peter F. Drucker, management consultant, educator, and author

“You must lose a fly to catch a trout.” ~ George Herbert, poet, orator and priest

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain, writer and humorist

“Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out. ~ James B. Conant, educator and scientist

Have a good week,

Kathleen

 

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