What Is the Professional Value of Risk-Taking?

By Valerie Martinelli, MPA – Leadership, Life, & Career Coach/ HR & Management Consultant 

Women are risk-averse. However, being risk-averse in your career is the worst thing that you can do. Our confidence grows as we continually challenge and even bet on ourselves and our capabilities. So, why is risk-taking in your career so imperative?

Innovation. Taking a risk can be exciting. It is exhilarating to feel the boldness and an emotional thrill of being on an edge. But this excitement and boldness also fill us with creativity. When we allow ourselves to be more creative, we can find innovative solutions to problems. Innovation is also critical to your career.

Engagement. I will be honest here, ladies. Not taking a risk and constantly playing it safe can be quite boring. What are you learning from constantly staying inside your safe zone? How engaged are you? Are you just going through the motions? Taking a risk will increase your engagement because you will embrace new opportunities. Of course, risk-taking can come with as many possibilities to fail to as it does to succeed but half of risk-taking is being resourceful.

Stretch yourself. Risk-taking involves stretching yourself as well. Do things that you may not have imagined yourself doing before. By achieving a goal that you may not have imagined accomplishing before, you are not only taking a risk, but you will find satisfaction and excitement as well.

Get Ahead. Playing it safe may keep you employed but it won’t ever get you ahead. Sadly, this is one reason why we have yet to achieve leadership parity. I see women who say that they want to get ahead but then when it comes to doing what it takes to achieve that, they shy away and go back to playing it safe. Studies have shown that women in executive positions are inherently more conservative because they have more to prove and therefore more to lose as well. This, however, is the worst strategy possible.

It isn’t easy to know which risks to take, but working with a professional coach can benefit you. I will admit that I never used to be much of a risk-taker myself. I was never even very comfortable with the idea of risk because I used to think that it meant I would automatically lose everything. That’s when it’s time to challenge your mindset. Why does risk-taking always have to be associated with losing? It doesn’t. The point is to take risks because something more important is at stake. You can never fulfill your own potential by avoiding risk altogether.

So, what shifted my views of risk? I saw my career start to sputter and it was not leading down the path that I imagined for myself. I knew it was time to re-think my views and my strategy. It can be uncomfortable at first, but it can also open new doors that you never imagined for yourself. We do not grow from our comfort zones; we grow from continually challenging ourselves and the status quo.

When considering risk, expect to win, be open to opportunities, listen to your intuition, and don’t let bad luck, mistake, or failure get you down. It is likely to happen, however, that does not mean it will occur each time. Putting yourself out there requires you to be bold and assertive. It also demonstrates leadership capabilities and potential. Leaders do not-and cannot- play it safe. `

Risk-taking is also another reason why new grads should not plan out their careers. Trying to plan everything well in advance keeps you from risk. The fear of the unknown can be overwhelming and terrifying, but you truly cannot afford to stick to a path that avoids the unfamiliar and narrows your career horizons rather than broadening them. It is important to view risk-taking as being opportunistic, maximizing one’s personal and professional growth, visibility, and relationships by recognizing the variables associated with a decision and using sound judgment.

It also is valuable to look at risk beyond the confines of new opportunities. It can be risky to raise one’s hand to share a dissenting opinion during a meeting and while it can be risky to go against the herd, the alternative rarely generates positive momentum. While it can be intimidating to go against the grain, being confident to share your voice provides a diversity of viewpoints, offering the building blocks for better outcomes.

Managing the internal anxiety that often accompanies risk requires the right type of support system, and being able to talk to someone openly about pros, cons, and doubts that helps create the level of certainty required to charge ahead as a leader. Having a professional coach can make it easier to take chances because it is their job to ensure you that you are widening your experiences and connections, experiencing continuous development, and fulfilling your potential. The risks that you take can serve as valuable examples and lessons for the women who come after you.


Valerie Martinelli, MPA is the CEO & Owner of Valerie Martinelli Consulting, LLC and Founder of Innovate 50/50. Connect with Val on Twitter @AskVMC or via website askVMC.com.