As an administrative professional, you take risks every day to help your executives and your organization succeed… often going to great lengths to get the impossible, retrieve the un-findable, and accomplish feats you’ve never even before attempted.
Need a set of research fast? Got it!
Last-minute changes to travel arrangements? Done!
Plan an event for 500 VIPs on two days’ notice? Yikes, but I’m on it!
Let’s face it, we’re no strangers to risk when it comes to helping others. We call in favors, ask for items we think we’ll never get (but somehow do) and find the courage to ask for help to get it all done. But in the daily dash to achieve the impossible for your executives and your organizations, don’t forget to take a few risks to do something for yourself personally and professionally, as well.
Ask yourself: Is my career advancing in the right direction, and at the desired pace? Am I taking on interesting responsibilities in order to partner with my leaders at an even higher level? Do I have the courage and self-confidence to reach for something new and different when it intrigues me?
As an administrative professional for over 18 years, I served several executives in the C-suites of three different companies. And while each position tested my professional skills in many ways, my biggest challenges often came from within. Was I good enough to take on this new role? Did I have the right experience to try for something different? Was I smart enough to work at that new level?
Here are five key insights that helped me push through the inevitable fear that accompanies considering something completely new and different, and take reasonable and appropriate risks to accomplish my goals:
1 There are four distinct categories of risk. When I stopped lumping all “risk” together into one big category, I felt more in control of my own destiny. I was also able to give myself credit for the areas where I had taken risks and achieved good results. It also highlighted areas in which I knew I wanted to take more risk, and those in which I definitely did not. I also saw that I didn’t have to take risks in all of them at once.
- Emotional risk involves our interpersonal relationships and the questions we ask ourselves in order to make them stronger (Is this relationship working? If not, what risks might I need to take to make it better, such as being more open, honest or trusting?).
- Physical risk involves activities such as hobbies (How much of a daredevil am I?) and health and wellness (Am I risking poor health by not taking care of myself?).
- Financial risk involves our income, savings, retirement plans and more (Am I saving enough early on to remain comfortable later in life? If not, how can I correct this?).
- Position/Power risk involves our career and position in society. (Am I successful and making a difference in my career? Is my career on track?)
2 There are four distinct levels of risk. It’s important to identify the level at which we’re currently operating and evaluate if it’s the proper level for our goals. Looking at them objectively can help us determine where we should be operating.
- Low: there are many things that are low risk, unfortunately most are also low reward. If we’re operating at this level, where we do just what we’re asked and nothing more (for fear of being wrong or stepping out of bounds), we must move up to at least the next level.
- Moderate: At this level, even if we don’t volunteer for new projects, we at least let our hidden talents and interests be known, so others can consider us for new things. Am I good at math? Research? Organization? We must speak up and let others know about those talents.
Quick story: Blurting out one day that “I love all this computer stuff” to my boss, Mike, gave him the idea to ask me to try out a new word processing program that none of us had ever seen before (you guessed it – this was back in the early 1980s when word processing was a brand new concept)! This led to the discovery that I excelled at technology (who knew?) and I was added to a corporate-wide committee evaluating new technology for the organization. Faster advancements and raises than I ever would have received otherwise resulted from that assignment… all because I opened my mouth and let someone know of something that caught my interest! Turns out that what you’re really interested in are things you’re also really good at doing.
- High: At this level, we volunteer for new projects and ask for more responsibility and challenges, rather than simply hoping that someone will offer us a chance to use new skills and talents.
- Stupid: Yes, there is a stupid level of risk, which is categorized by arrogance, feelings of invulnerability (that won’t happen to me!), or refusing to learn from the mistakes of others. To avoid falling for stupid risk, determine the purpose of the risk, learn from previous mistakes and assess why your approach will succeed. In other words, remember that all risk must be well considered to maximize the positive benefits of taking it and minimize its potential negative side effects.
3 We must recognize that the transferable skills we possess can be used in many different positions, not just our current one. In other words, “just because I’ve never done something before doesn’t mean I can’t do it… or don’t possess the skills to do it well.”
Quick story: At one point, after I had such success with the word processing software, our company started a brand new company, Chadwicks’ women’s clothing catalog. They needed someone to fill the position of Business Systems Consultant. My husband (who worked at a sister company) told me to try for that position. I balked because I’d never done that before! But he insisted that all the skills I’d need for the new position were skills I was already using in my current one; plus, I was very detail-oriented, which was a critical skill for success in the new position. He finally convinced me to go on an interview by saying, “Just go on the interview and if you’re not right for the job, guess what – they won’t hire you!” Duh! Even though I didn’t recognize my transferable skills, thankfully my husband did – and I became Chadwicks’ very first Business Systems Consultant!
4 When you don’t have the courage or self-confidence to convince yourself, someone else can step up to help you find it. We often undervalue our own abilities. Because they come easily to us, we don’t realize that others don’t do them as well as we do, or we just don’t recognize that we can use them in new and unique ways. If someone is telling you that you’re good at something, don’t ignore it. It could be a valuable insight into your own abilities that you’re just not recognizing… and that you could put to good use at a later time.
5 Start with small risks, and build from there; but be on your guard. The first risk was the hardest, but I rediscovered that trying new things built my confidence and allowed me to try even more new things, with one success building upon another. However, I have the tendency to slide back and have to remain on my guard so as not to allow myself to fall back into that “Low Risk” category just because I become comfortable with a new level of risk.
We all live with varying levels of trepidation about trying new things. Some people are fearless! I wish I could be more like them. Others let fear hold them back all the time. But many of us are in that middle area, where it may take more time and convincing to overcome that fear and go to new levels.
If we constantly push ourselves to be a little better today than we were yesterday, we often find that when we decide to “go for it” we are surprised by our own success. And each time we do, gaining new skills and knowledge in the process, it gets a little easier to try the next risk.
More importantly, in hindsight we see that the risks we don’t take often cost us more than the risks we do take.
So, identify your current risk level. Identify your goals and how to accomplish them, do your homework and make a plan to use all the talents and abilities you possess – and let others know about them. Then go for it! Your tummy may flutter, your palms get a little moist and you may become light-headed just thinking of it – but that’s normal! That’s what lets you know you’re moving out of your comfort zone.
It’s also what is usually necessary in order to create the kind of performance that will generate breakthrough opportunities for your personal and professional life… and prepare you to capitalize on them when they come along.
Here’s to you and your success!