Being a leader requires risk-taking. How did reading that make you feel? Did your stomach drop? Did your mouth get dry? There is no question about it. By definition, taking a risk is scary. But you won’t ever get where you want to go unless you take some big risks along the way. And that’s going to mean leaving your comfort zone.
Here are some big risks I have taken in my career:
- Planning a new library wing.
- Automating my library in the very early years of library automation.
- Leaving a job (and tenure) after more than two decades to take another.
Some risks you might be considering are:
- Genrefying your library.
- Giving a presentation at your state library association or at the national level.
- Running for president of your state association.
- Speaking at a Board of Education meeting.
- Creating an Advisory Council of parents and teachers for your library.
Taking a risk means you might fail. Depending on where you are in your career, any one of those possibilities could cause you to change your mind several times before coming to a decision. How do you get unstuck and take a bold action?
Remind yourself of your Vision and Mission Statements. Then ask if the risk supports one or both of them. How would Genrefying your library support your goals? Would giving a presentation or running for president improve the position of your program? Would speaking at a Board meeting highlight the roles you play and the values you hold as a librarian? Can an Advisory Council give you the support you need for challenges to your collection?
Before taking the leap, Cheryl Strauss Einhorn recommends these five steps to help you Become More Comfortable Making Bold Decisions:
- Identify the decision you need to make. – Get as clear as you can on the decision you really need to make, risks aside. What is the reason you are doing this? How does it connect to your Mission and Vision? What will happen if you don’t do it? Once you’re clear, lean on your Professional Learning Community. Ask who has done this before or attempted it. What do they wish they had known before they started? Are they glad they did it? What do the recommend you do or not do?
- Examine your past bold decisions. – Take time to notice your previous successes. What made them successful? Identify the leadership qualities that helped you achieve your goals. What did you achieve as a result of taking the risk? Would you have done it the same way if you were making that decision now? We often don’t recognize we have grown on the job. Looking to the past will reveal your growth as a leader.
- Ask yourself what attributes or similarities are shared between the bold decision you are considering and your prior decisions. – This new step may feel risky, but it probably isn’t entirely new ground. For example, if you are considering genrefying your collection, notice that you’ve already created a section for professional reading or graphic novels. It is reassuring to recognize that not only have you been successful in the past, but also that you can draw on how you accomplished that success. You are not really starting from scratch. The bold decision you are considering may be bigger than what you have done before, but you have some past experiences to guide and support you.
- Consider whether there are attributes of your past bold decisions that might impede your ability to get to a good outcome for your current decision. – What happened with past decisions (bold or not) that you wish you could have done differently? This is your chance to make that chance. Where there things that kept you from being as successful as you hoped? What did you learn from missteps?
- Apply the lessons from your past data to your current decision. — Take what you know worked with what didn’t and apply it to the new success you’re looking to have. Don’t let those mistakes stop you because that is how we learn. (Don’t you tell your students this all the time? Apply it to yourself!) And remember – don’t only look at the negatives. You deserve the praise for what worked.
You need to be a leader. Leaders are visionaries who take risks and try new things. If it’s time for you to be bold, take time to be smart about how you do it.