7 questions for figuring out your tolerance for risk

While discussing the push/pull polarities of influence styles at a workshop on Power, Persuasion and Influence I facilitated for a group of Fortune 100 executive women, one women shared a moving observation with the group:  while knowing which style of influence is best to use depending upon the situation is important, the real issue is one’s willingness to take the risk to influence, especially if the status quo is in question.

Her courageous workshop action item was to take that risk.  She said she owed doing so to her colleagues, the organization and herself.

What a powerful moment.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. ~Leo F. Buscaglia

Sometimes the risk is being the square peg in the round hole, wearing kelly green when your colleagues are wearing charcoal grey, daring — albeit politely — to be the corporate contrarian, and/or dancing with the elephant in the room.  Risking your secure place in the corporate food chain by questioning new practices that run contrary to stated values is a high stake gamble.  Will you be rewarded, take a small hit or lose it all?

According to Julie J. McGowan, professor at Indiana University, “Risk taking is hard to adopt among leaders, because recognized leaders have the most to lose and aspiring leaders may be discounted as lacking in knowledge or common sense.”  Risk-taking can yield great rewards and possibilities for learning provided you’ve done your homework ahead of time.

7 questions for assessing your leadership readiness for risk taking

You must have high EQ, PQ (political quotient) and a thorough knowledge of your work culture to assess your tolerance for workplace risk-taking.  Consider:

  • Historically, how has your corporate culture reacted to those who challenged the status quo?  Are you prepared to accept possible negative outcomes?  Are you willing to see your credibility erode? Are you equipped to lose your job?
  • Is this an issue that’s important to you alone, or do others share similar concerns? Will others who think/feel/believe the same speak up after you’ve led the charge, or will your voice be the only one that’s speaking? Are you ready to forge ahead regardless?
  • Are you able to be the center of attention if your topic goes viral within the company?  Are you primed to be a role model and/or attacked?
  • Do you have solid solutions already in mind?  Are you disposed to collaborate with others and devise a solution that integrates the views of many?
  • Have you brainstormed possible unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the stand you’re championing?
  • Are you OK, mentally and emotionally, with the possibility of failure?  Will your self-esteem survive the hit?  Can your ego resist the adulation of success?
  • Do you have the will to see it through? Do you have a support system that will nurture you throughout, regardless of the outcome?

Risk tolerance is extremely personal.  Only you can decide if high risk/high reward is your métier or if low risk/low reward represents the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Either way, be prepared, be thoughtful and do what’s right for you.




Leadership Reading We Liked

Because ongoing learning, exploring, and developing others are in our DNA here at Brraithwaite Innovation Group and Get Your BIG On, we are researching and reading all the time. These posts intrigued us and/or captured our imagination and/or pushed our comfort zones this past week. Here’s hoping they do the same for you…enjoy!

Are you making choices that matter? (Chery Gegelman, Lead Change Group Blog)

This one will get you thinking. Chery asks the $64,000 question:  ”Are we engaged and courageously challenging our own comfort zones for the good of those around us or are we sitting comfortably and watching the world go by?”

Six Extras that Build Power and Leadership (Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business Review blog)

The team at BIG is big on helping people step up and into their power. Power gets a bum rap. People believe they don’t deserve to have it or don’t want any.  Others think it’s evil and self-serving. Power, in and of itself, is neutral. It only becomes good or bad depending upon how one chooses to use it. In this terrific post, Kanter highlights six building blocks for making power good:  being a good colleague, connecting people, being a giver, framing issues, commitment and diplomacy.

Do You Use Verbal White Space? (Steve Roesler, All Things Workplace)

Effective verbal communication skills are a must-have leadership toolkit item. Steve offers up great advice for phrasing your message to assure your meaning is communicated, and not lost in a sea of too many words.

Understanding Bias Is Essential to Inclusion (Mark Kaplan, Diversity Executive)

Ready for comfort zone discomfort? ”The debate about bias is over. Bias is a part of being human. The issue is no longer whether people are biased, but more about how to increase awareness of how bias impacts organizations and what can be done about it.”

Change, Patience, and Reinventing Ourselves (Debbe Kennedy, Women In the Lead)

The butterfly story from Greg Levoy’s Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life is included. It’s a splendid reminder of the power of patience and that sometimes the best help is no help.

Managers: Drive out fear—one thing you can do this week (David Witt, Blanchard LeaderChat)

Great guidance for not letting small things become big problems. What really stood out for us:  email is one-way communicating. Real managers make sure two-way communications occur.

Thoughts on success and humility. ”It is said that it is far more difficult to hold and maintain leadership that it is to attain it. Success is a ruthless competitor for it flatters and nourishes our weaknesses and lulls us into complacency. We bask in the sunshine of accomplishment and lose the spirit of humility which helps us visualize all the factors which have contributed to our success. We are apt to forget that we are only one of a team, that in unity there is strength and that we are strong only as long as each unit in our organization functions with precision.” ~Samuel Tilden

Use this week to help those on your team learn to use their heads to manage and their hearts to lead…success requires both!


Favorite Leadership Reading

The BIG team sees lots of interesting material while doing our work (what a delightful perk!), so we share the highlights via our weekly leadership favs. Enjoy our short-cut to information you may not have the time to look up but find interesting!

The Power of Introverts (Susan Cain, Huff Post Women)

Are you an introvert who feels like you must masquerade as an extrovert because that’s the more socially acceptable way to be? If so, you’ll like how Susan challenges mainstream “go with the flow” thinking.

Trend Watch: Redefining Leadership (Center for Creative Leadership, may require free sign-up)

Some very stimulating concepts from Nick Petrie, former Harvard professor and now with CCL. “Individual competencies still matter. However, something more significant may be happening — the end of an era, dominated by individual leaders, and the beginning of another, which embraces networks of leadership.”

Best and Worst Jobs of 2012 (Wall Street Journal)

Several clients were intrigued with this list of preferred/not preferred jobs, looking at the contents from turnover, engagement and strategic planning purposes. Some interesting business and cultural value statements here.

Leading Change in the 21st Century: 4 Myths About Cultural Change (Aad Boot, Leadershipwatch)

If your senior leadership team is saying we need to change the culture around here, have them read Aad’s post. Then follow up with some long and thoughtful discussions about what will or won’t work for your organization.

A Perfect System of Misunderstanding (Dan Oestreich, Unfolding Leadership)

“We seem to thrive on caricatures and stereotypes and all too habitually see problems rather than possibilities in the unknown regions beyond our own preferred stories,” writes Dan in this thoughtful post. Great tips that encourage leaders to be open and vulnerable (however tricky and unnerving that will be) as they deal with conflict and misunderstanding, particularly of one another.

When Goals Become Limits (Patrick Love, Unconventional Leadership)

Some good insights to challenge your thought processes about whether or not SMART goals curb what we’re capable of achieving.

A quote we liked best. “For the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived, and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.” ~John F. Kennedy

Here’s to using your head to manage and your heart to lead!

Photo from Quick Flash Games




Building a new leadership paradigm

There’s something, isn’t there, about the ambiance of a little coffee shop that spurs how-we’re-going-to-change-the-world discussions?

The topic at hand was a rich and challenging one:  reinventing leadership so it’s inspired and inspiring. People want to produce value and feel valued. Just-a-cog-in-the-wheel environments must go. Ethics and integrity tossed aside for economics and perpetually better bottom line results is wrong, wrong, wrong.  What needs to be changed and how would it be accomplished?

As one might imagine, there was immediate consensus on the need for a new leadership paradigm and no shortage of ideas for what it should be. Our caffeine-stimulated change ingredient list so far:

  • No more singular focus on just the bottom line as a measure of success. Somewhere along the line, Drucker’s observation that “what gets measured gets managed” was corrupted.  Hard and fast metrics make management easier, but that isn’t the point.
  • There must be a moral center. Ethics and integrity matter. Must end the Murdoch mentality of “get the story no matter what.”
  • Leaders apply confidence and humility in equal measure; both are used appropriately. Laughter and tears are welcome in the work place.
  • Contrarian points of view (albeit presented professionally and without haughty condescension) are encouraged. Brown-nosing is no longer a required promotional competency.
  • Power is used appropriately. If it’s a truly command-and-control scenario (crises), directives are OK. Otherwise, power is used with others and to produce win-win outcomes. Leaders know when to flex between styles and are held accountable for doing so.
  • Gender, race and ethnicity are irrelevant to effective leadership.
  • Pronouns reflect inclusion (we, not me) and courage (it was my decision…)
  • There’s a team-oriented approach to achieving results coupled with a spirit of “we’re all in this together.” No more “me-centered” spotlights.
  • Tough empathy rules. A job well-done is recognized and rewarded. Less-than-stellar performance is addressed immediately via thoughtful, continued coaching; follow-up required.
  • Serious thought goes into perks. Pooh-bahs don’t continue to fly in corporate jets while clerks and assistants have to pay for their morning cup of coffee.
  • Diversity goes beyond lip service and really means something. Inclusion is valued.
  • It’s OK, expected even, to go home while it’s still daylight and/or not come into the office on the weekend. Seeing your kid in a play or a soccer game matters.
  • Vacations are for renewal, really. Clear your head. Come back renewed not current with your email.
  • The squeaky wheel doesn’t get all the attention. People talk, share, engage. Political correctness in agreeing with the guy with the loudest voice isn’t politically correct anymore.

Given the breadth, depth and complexity of leadership, this new paradigm list is a work in progress. What elements would you add?



Leaders: 7 ways to maintain momentum

Starting his own cheese, wine and charcuterie shop had been a dream of Steve’s ever since his early college days in northern California.  His happiest career day was leaving his “big boy” accounting manager job to open his shop. Steve’s saddest day was hanging the “going out of business” sign on his shop door.

The day that happened, Steve froze, personally and professionally, doing nothing for several months except looking back, wondering what he could have done differently to save his dream. Steve believed he was a failure.  He wasn’t. He was simply failing at dealing with hitting one of life’s unexpected speed bumps.

Hitting those life change obstacles hurts, just like it did when you fell off a skateboard when you were eight years old. And, just like you did way back then, the key is picking yourself up and getting back in the game.  Work to see what happened to you as a “teachable moment” for exploring, growing and learning instead of allowing yourself to withdraw.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” ~Albert Einstein

7 tips to keep the momentum going

If you are a leader and identify with what happened to Steve, use these seven tips to get and keep moving:

1) Find the lesson(s). Work with a trusted confidante to explore your thoughts and feelings about what happened. There’s something positive to be learned from nearly every situation. These learnings will make you better next time around.

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” ~Bernice Johnson Reagon

2) Pursue understanding. Ignoring what happened or looking to find fault won’t make the situation go away or change the outcome. Focus instead on what you do well and look for opportunities where you can apply your strengths.

“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” ~Carlos Castaneda

3) Seek self-awareness. Take a long hard look at your reactions so you can better understand your motivation. Connect to what makes you tick and use that wisdom to connect with others. Determine if your strengths have been over-used to the point of becoming weaknesses.

“Most of the shadows of life are caused by standing in our own sunshine.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

4) Take wise risks. Expand your comfort zone - that’s where life and learning really begins. Learn and grow by trying something new. Expect bumps, bruises and failures along the way.

“There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” ~Aldous Huxley

5) Build bridges to the future; don’t burn those to the past. You never know when a past boss or colleague may become a future boss or hold the key to a job or assignment you want, so maintain constructive relationships.

“He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.” ~Abraham Lincoln

6) Remain optimistic. Analyze the situation. Then move beyond those “what if” thoughts or “maybe I should have” worries. Saying I should have, I could have, I wish I did is living your life in the rear view mirror — all looking back and no forward movement.

“The difference between can and cannot is only three letters. Three letters that can shape your life’s direction.” ~Remez Sasson

7) Grow, learn, connect. Volunteer, take a class, connect, share, work out, be a mentor, network, read, write, love, laugh, learn. Use the past as a springboard for energetically moving on.

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” ~Brian Tracy

The next time you’re cruising down the highway and see the road sign that reads “keep moving, change lanes later” – smile and follow the good advice.


This Week’s Leadership Favs

The BIG team’s Friday leadership favs are an eclectic collection of articles, blog posts, quotes and whatever else caught our eye this past week. Some items are recent, others are old. Some are mainstream, others are eclectic. Lead BIG!

Everyday Leadership (TEDxToronto, Drew Dudley)

Feeling like you aren’t making as big a difference as you’d like to? Listen to this funny and inspiring six-minute talk, then come away renewed. Often we affect change one person at a time, unaware of the ripples of positive impact we began.

Are Women Better Leaders than Men? (Joseph Folkman, Jack Zenger, HBR)

The BIG team believes great leadership knows no gender, race or ethnicity. In reading the 175+ comments to this post, others don’t share that belief (particularly with regard to gender). Fascinating stuff. (Disclosure: BIG’s Jane Perdue is a commenter.)

Are You Ready to Speak Up? (Susan Mazza on Random Acts of Leadership)

Susan sums it up best, “Speaking up as an act of leadership isn’t about what you have to say, about being heard, or even about being understood.  It is about the difference you want to make by speaking up.”

The Art of Making Your Point–Avoid Getting Lost in the Sauce (Dawn Lemon on Business Fitness)

Dawn asks communicators to consider how their message will be received and interpreted by the message recipient – an interesting twist that underscores the importance of clear communications.

Twitter is not a Social Network (Colleen Sharen on Thinking is Hard Work)

Some very interesting research sited here about Twitter being more of a broadcast medium than a social exchange.

Why Directors Should Give a Damn about Culture (John Bell on In the CEO Afterlife)

More CEO’s and Boards of Directors should heed John’s advice on the value of culture and the impact it has on performance and engagement.

Quote of the week: Not fixing others gives you the time you need to take responsibility for your own life. ~Paul Ferrini



This Week’s Leadership Favs

The BIG Friday leadership favorites are an eclectic collection of articles, blog posts, quotes, pod casts and whatever else engaged our interest as we did our work over the past week. Lead BIG and enjoy!

How to Map the Politics around Your Work (Colin Gautrey, The Gautrey Group)

Ewwww, say many people when the topic “office politics” is broached. Yet smart leaders understand that office politics can’t be ignored, and in fact, need to be understood. Colin offers up a fascinating exercise in this post, designed to help leaders develop a “firm grasp of what is “really” going on, can you start to navigate safely through the corridors of power.”

The 70-20-10 Rule  (Center for Creative Leadership e-Newsletter, requires free sign-up)

Based on their own research, CCL proposes a formula for developing managers that incorporates three categories of experience: “challenging assignments (70 percent), developmental relationships (20 percent) and coursework and training (10 percent). Says CCL’s Meena Surie Wilson, ‘We believe that today, even more than before, a manager’s ability and willingness to learn from experience is the foundation for leading with impact.’”

Bad is Stronger Than Good (Roy F. Baumeister, et al, research paper)

If your orientation to the world is a glass half empty, you’ll have a field day with the scientific data here, “having a good day did not have any noticeable effect on a person’s well-being the following day, whereas having a bad day did carry over and influence the next day.”  For us glass-half-full folks, all the more reason to keep working on making a positive difference and paying it forward.

Bad Boss or a Bad Job Fit? (Chris Young, Rainmaker Group)

Chris poses an interesting question here: are you certain your workplace problems are caused by having a crummy boss, or is the root cause that the wrong person was hired for the job? He proposed a three-step process to find the answer.

4 Big Reasons to Kill Your Weekly Status Meeting (Art Petty, Management Excellence)

Time is money. Relationships are the new currency of workplace. If you’re a boss and value both time and relationships, read Art’s post before you schedule your next staff meeting.

Quote of the week:  “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” ~Art Turock



This Week’s Leadership Favs

The Friday leadership favorites of the BIG team are an eclectic collection of articles, blog posts, quotes, pod casts and whatever else engaged our interest over the past week. Lead big on your dance of discovery!

How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings)

Before you can lead others, you have to lead yourself. This means having created some loose tethers to a personal vision. This beautifully curated post notes arriving “at your true calling is an intricate and highly individual dance of discovery” that’s part art, part science and offers up seven thought resources to help find the dance steps that work for you.

Separating What Matters From What Doesn’t (Anthony Guerra, HealthSystemCIO.com)

A lovely, straight-forward piece full of good examples and stories illustrating the need to sift through what matters, what doesn’t. Then deciding where compromise is possible and where it isn’t. (Reader alert: contains some jargon)

Five Simple Rules for Staying in Power (Jason Gots, Big Think)

The team at BIG is fascinated with power and works with both men and women so they better understand how to use it for the greater good. This tongue-in-cheek post tickled our funny bone (yet made us rue the fact that some folks think these practices are the way to go).

8 leadership myths dispelled (Tara Alemany, SmartBlog on Leadership)

Sometimes all it takes is exposure and/or experience to debunk those urban legends hanging around the water cooler. Tara outlines seven insights that “defy certain myths about leaders” for leaders in all walks of life to embrace. (Disclosure: BIG’s Jane Perdue is one of the Lead Change book authors)

History of the Corporation

Wow, just wow. There are some points of view here regarding the structure and intent of corporations that made the BIG team say hmmm, very interesting. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

The Dollars and Sense of Employee Engagement (Dominique Jones, Halogen Software)

Need both qualitative and quantitative data to convince yourself, your bosses, other pooh-bahs, etc. of the value of employee engagement? You’ll find it here. If interested in a thought-provoking companion piece, try The One Thang by William Tincup. (If profanity offends you, skip this one.)



A letter of love and hope to Zoe

One of the joys of my second act of life is watching my ten-year-old granddaughter, Zoe, grow into young womanhood and explore all the richness of life.  Another joy of my second act is helping leaders and women succeed in business. Amy and I call it helping people get their big on:  think big rather than small, be the big person and do what’s right whether or not it’s popular, trade in the tiny dreams for big ones, forego the personal glory and pay it forward for the greater good. All those things we want to see in our young leaders, whether male or female.

Today, International Women’s Day, both of my joys intersect. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is connecting girls, inspiring futures. Hence my letter to Zoe, a confident young girl on her journey to becoming a confident young woman, a powerful leader, and anything else she chooses to be and do.

Dear Zoe,

Today is International Women’s Day. While there won’t be pizza, okra and apple pie to celebrate (perhaps there should be…), it’s a big day for you and other young girls across the globe. Why? Because you’re our future.

You frequently ask us to tell you a story. Today, I’m doing something different. I’m asking you to start living out a story, your story.

Twenty years from now I want to sit down with you and listen to your stories. I want to know where you’ve taken your life and how you found success, fulfillment and love.

I want to hear how:

- You never lost your belief in yourself and how it propelled you into new adventures because you were never afraid to take the leap

- The courage you displayed in fiercely pursuing your brown belt at age 9 never left you, and that you shared it with others to help them find their way because girls can do and be whatever they want to do and be

- Your compassion for saving stray animals and befriending the underdog has made you a beacon of light for family, friends, co-workers and colleagues and maybe even a broader stage

- Your boundless creativity and gift for storytelling have served you well, allowing you to chase innovation, not letting misguided beliefs and stereotypes limit your opportunities and experiences

- Your belief in inclusion never wavered and kept you from falling victim to short-sighted ideologies that shut out people with different viewpoints, and

- You kept being the boss and the ringleader, never doubting for a moment that you would always be liked and be powerful, too.

I know some of these concepts probably don’t make much sense to you today, but they will as you experience more of life. Trust your Mum-mum on this one.

There are days when I wonder if the gender gap will ever be closed. Then an image of your purpose-filled little face appears, and I know your generation of women is in good hands.

With love and hope for the future,





This Week’s Leadership Favs

The Get Your BIG On team’s weekly leadership favorites are an eclectic collection of articles, blog posts, quotes, pod casts and whatever else engaged our interest as we did our work over the past week. Some items are recent, others aren’t. Some are mainstream, others are off the beaten path. Enjoy! Learn, connect and share.

Are You A Power-Poisoned Boss? (Bob Sutton, Fast Company)

The BIG team is fascinated with power and how it all too frequently goes awry. Several of the stories will hopefully make you cringe (provided you haven’t been poisoned with power as Bob calls it).

40 Best Movies to Honor Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month. If you’re looking for a unique way to celebrate it, grab some popcorn and wine and sample 40 movies by, for and about women. (Lots of other interesting lists on this site, too.)

Old School Persuasion Tools You Learned, But Should Never Use (Persuasive.net)

If your efforts at persuading others are falling short, perhaps you’re guilty of committing one (or more) of the four erroneous practices described here that derail your ability to influence others.

Take 5: Why Men Should Care (Catalyst)

“Seventy-four percent of the men Catalyst interviewed in their Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives series identified fear and apathy as barriers to supporting gender equality.” Here they look at five reasons why men have a lot to gain and nothing to fear from equality.

Conforming to the Norm (Psyblog)

Ever wonder why most people join in and ignore the obvious and well-known elephant in the room? Read some science behind why “many people find their inability to conform is a real problem in their lives while others find it more difficult to break away and do their own thing.”

Fixing Your “Boss Problem” with Self-Supervision (Dawn Lennon, Business Fitness)

If you’re in the half of workers who have a problem boss whom you can’t trust, you might find a tip or two here for managing yourself to help you deal with the situation.

Rethink, reframe, renew. “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” ~Gilda Radner