MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Why is it important for women to take risks in business? is written by Teresa Briggs, vice chair and west region managing partner at Deloitte.
Virginia Elizabeth “Geena” Davis once said, “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.” From someone who once starred in Beetlejuice and managed to win an Oscar afterwards, it’s clear she (and her agent) lived by those words. When I reflect back on my more than 30 years in the workforce, there’s no denying that risks can be scary, and the fear of the unknown is often overwhelming. However, I have found that more often than not, taking chances can bring about new opportunities and propel your career forward.
When I was a new college grad, I thought I had an idea of what my career journey would look like. But looking back now, sticking to that path without inviting some element of risk would have narrowed my horizons rather than broadening them. Risk-taking is less about jumping into the unknown and more about being opportunistic — maximizing one’s personal and professional growth, visibility, and relationships by recognizing the variables associated with a decision and using good judgment.
Looking beyond new opportunities, risk-taking can manifest itself within the confines of corporate structure. Raising one’s hand to share a dissenting opinion takes guts, and while it’s a risk to go against the herd, the alternative rarely generates positive momentum. After all, “groupthink” isn’t just a glossary word from Sociology 101 — it hinders creativity and innovation in the workplace. While it can be intimidating to go against the grain, being unafraid to share your voice delivers a diversity of viewpoints, providing the building blocks for better outcomes.
I’ve found that remaining true to your authentic self and encouraging your colleagues to do the same is one of the most important parts of overcoming a fear of taking risks. Whether it was taking on a new role, a new office culture, or a completely different industry, there were times in my career when I questioned whether a position was right for me or if I’d be able to adapt quick enough to perform at a high level.
Managing the internal anxiety that often accompanies risk requires the right kind of support system, and being able to talk to someone openly about pros, cons and doubts has helped me create the level of certainty required to charge ahead as a leader. Having a sponsor in my professional life has made it easier to take chances, as each move I’ve made has taught me new skills and helped me make new connections that widen my experiences and capabilities — things I can now share with the individuals I sponsor. It’s this kind of continuous development that allows the risks I’ve taken serve as valuable lessons to the women who come after me.
Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Why is it important for women to take risks in business?
Is gender bias a reason to quit your job? by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.
The one way to guarantee failure at work by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.
Why starting my own business at 25 was a huge mistake by Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Market Mentor.
Build-A-Bear CEO: Why women need to take risks in business by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.