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As you reflect on your career, do you wish you trusted in yourself more? Do you take enough chances? In your school, is there a sense of freedom to try new things?

Most people are wired to be risk averse. Change is scary. It can lead to sacrifices. In fact, humans are much more comfortable accepting the status quo than taking a chance, speaking up, or rattling someone’s cage.

Education is built around statutory, bureaucratic, and organizational obstacles. For the most part, it’s easier (and safer) to go with the flow than rock the boat. Consider why:

  1. We overestimate the probability that something will go wrong. When assessing risk, we tend to overestimate the likelihood that something bad will happen. In reality, the risk of something not working out usually is not as high as we think. In fact, the odds of things working out are often far greater.
  2. We exaggerate the consequences of what might happen if things go sideways. When it comes to conjuring up every terrible thing that might happen, our imaginations run wild. We develop worst-case scenarios and catastrophic outcomes that are enough to scare the living daylights out of any sane human being. Rather than give credence to our ability to head off disaster, we envision a situation spiraling out of control as we helplessly watch it unfold.
  3. We underestimate our ability to handle the consequences. People invest in self-doubt in spades. We allow misgivings about the downside to get the better of us. As a result, new opportunities and challenges are avoided.
  4. We discount or deny the cost of inaction. We tell ourselves, “Things aren’t really that bad” or “If we give it a little more time, things will get better.” We make excuses for not getting our hands dirty. The convenience of inaction overrides the discomfort of having to do something.

A vital characteristic of forward-thinking leadership is the ability to take risks. Essential to our success is moving past the fear of failure that is prevalent in most school districts. To identify risks worth taking, ask yourself three questions:

  1. What would it look like if I were being more courageous?
  2. If I do nothing now, how will this inaction cost me a year from now?
  3. Where is my fear of failure causing me to overestimate the size of risk or underestimate the power of my own ability?

Making your mark as a school leader requires breakout moments. Rather than follow the same path as the principal who came before or the mentor who has guided your career, forge your own way. Complacency is a dangerous place to reside. And going out on a limb is probably far less risky than you think. Where others see a red light, risk-savvy principals see green.



Warrel, M. (2013, Jun. 18). Take a risk: The odds are better than you think. Forbes Magazine.

Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2013/06/18/take-a-risk-the-odds-are-better-than-you-think/

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