In my second year of grad school I took a class called Strategic Planning in the Public Sector. One of the major discussions we had in class was about taking risks in the workplace and whether or not it was appropriate for public sector employees to do this. I spoke up, a bit hesitantly, saying that of course I saw the value in taking chances and putting myself out there from time to time but that I also felt bound to be somewhat risk averse; being that everything my agency does is funded by taxpayer dollars. I feel bound by this need to make sure that I do not make an error while I am on the public payroll.
Immediately hands shot up all around me, I clearly made a rookie mistake as a young and green government employee, I just was not sure what that was yet. The professor chuckled a bit, and let the barrage of responses come. The main take aways were:
– Not every risk leads to catastrophic outcomes. Take some risks in small increments and correct course as necessary.
– Get comfortable being uncomfortable. If you are not uncomfortable you are likely not learning, not doing something new, and are most likely falling into the routine of doing what you “know” how to do.
– By taking small and calculated risks, you will develop the ability over the long run to discern which risks are worth taking.
This is when the professor chimed back in and encouraged us as future public leaders to “get out on the skinny branches.” He meant for us to climb further than many would think is prudent, to be willing to explore what is up there, to stand in a place where we may not feel like we have the full support of the organization. I would personally add that we should do this in the name of working towards achieving the mission and goals of the organizations or agencies we work for.
What is your take? Where is it appropriate to take risks? Where should we not? Any examples of risks that worked spectacularly? Some that went in the other direction?