What sets the exceptional professional apart from the average? Regardless of
what the profession, from sales to psychiatry, the exceptional professionals
share certain characteristics. Here is one: The propensity to take risks.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea. We’re not talking about skydiving here. Nor
are we talking about sinking your life savings in the new start up dot com
that your friend told you about. I don’t mean taking risks that might
endanger your health, safety or long-term security.
Instead, I am talking about taking risks that force you to move out of your
comfort zones on the job — risks that will stimulate you to stretch
yourself, to become more competent, to gain skills that you may not have, to
expand your abilities and, maybe, in so doing, help you become more
effective and more efficient.
Here’s an example. When I began my business, my focus was 100% on
consulting. I had never given a seminar in my life. But I read the books on
how to build a consulting practice, and all the experts recommended giving
seminars as a way to build your consulting practice. So I determined to do
I developed a program, How to Find, Interview, Select and Hire a Good
Salesperson,” and approached the ABM tools local business college with a proposal to
jointly present it. They agreed, and a few months later, I presented my
first seminar. It was a huge risk – something I had never done before. It
caused me to stretch myself and to learn a new set of skills. I could have
failed miserably. But, the seminar was successful. And that one led to
another, and that to yet another. Within a couple of years, I had discovered
that speaking and training could be major parts of my practice. Today, my
speaking and training income exceeds my consulting income by multiples.
If I hadn’t taken that first risk, I would never have built a successful
speaking practice. That practice has allowed me to travel all over the
country, and to present in many countries around the world. Not only has my
income expanded, but my life has broadened as well.
That’s the kind of risk I’m talking about. It’s the kind of risk that calls
on you to expand yourself. If you fail, it can be emotionally painful, and
perhaps financially troublesome. However, if you are successful, it can lead
you to other, and greater opportunities.
Test me on this. Talk to someone in your profession who has become
exceptionally successful. Ask him/her about the risks they have taken in
their professional lives. You’ll find, I believe, that almost every
successful professional has stretched themselves beyond their comfort zones
at a number of different times. It’s one of the characteristics of the
highly successful professional.
If you can build a propensity to take these kinds of risks into your mind
set, you’ll grow faster and further than if you remain safely inside of your
You take risks in a lot of ways. As a salesperson, when you call on a
different type of customer than that with which you have become comfortable,
you take a risk. For example, when you call on the Chief Financial Officer
of a business instead of just the production supervisor, you’ve stepped out
of your comfort zone and taken a risk.
In every profession, when you choose to implement any new strategy or
tactic, or you chose to do something differently, you take a risk. When you
choose to try a new way to make a presentation, contact your clients, or
locate your office, you are taking a risk. When you chose to question and
then change some long-entrenched habit, you are taking a risk. When you
expand your efforts in any direction that calls for you to stretch and
attempt something new, you are taking a risk.
Some of those risks will turn out well, others will become failures.
Regardless, the simple act of trying something different and new will help
you. You’ll gain confidence in your abilities, and you’ll learn from both
your successes as well as your failures. Your life will expand, you’ll grow
wiser, and you’ll become more successful.