Reaping the rewards of taking risks

By Greg Dardis / Guest Column

As soon as I saw the headline, “To raise brave girls, encourage adventure,” I thought of my 9-year-old daughter.

The TED talk had just been posted online, and the speaker, San Francisco-based writer Caroline Paul, caught my attention by addressing a discrepancy in parenting. We are raising our daughters to be more risk-averse than our sons, she said.

Ms. Paul cited a study published in The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology involving a playground fire pole. Given the chance to play on it, girls were very likely to be warned by both their moms and dads about the fire pole’s risk. If the girl still wanted to proceed, a parent was very likely to assist her.

But the boys were encouraged to play on the fire pole despite any trepidations they may have – and, in fact, the parents often offered guidance on how to use it on their own.

“What message does this send to both boys and girls?” Ms. Paul asked. “Well, that girls are fragile and more in need of help and that boys can and should master difficult tasks by themselves.”

Taking physical risks, she went on to explain, is the entrée into risk taking of other kinds. It’s how kids develop new skills.

Hearing this, I immediately conjured visions of my third-grade daughter at cheer practice, soaring on the trampoline, swinging on the rail bar and hurtling into the foam pit. It is the perfect sport for a tiny blonde whose twin DNA strands seem to be adventure and adrenaline. The risks she takes in the gym, surrounded by laughter and friends, could translate powerfully to other arenas as she grows up. My wife and I look forward to watching from the front row.

Taking risks to develop new skills has important ramifications in the workplace, and I challenge you this spring to take a calculated risk or two. Wear a bold new tie. Network more robustly. Become a mentor. Seek out a mentor. Make a toast at your company’s next social gathering. Sign up for community ed. Leave your comfort zone and enjoy the new sensations that follow.

Now is the time to think outside the box. Design a summer internship program. Collaborate across departments. Volunteer to write for the company newsletter. Invite retired employees out to lunch to pick their brains.

For 15 years, I’ve been in the business of executive training, which hinges on the willingness to take a risk, the bet that you can be better tomorrow than you are today. Dardis Communications instructors provide roadmaps to guide a host of risk taking, including one of the scariest of all: public speaking.

This is people’s No. 1 fear, followed by death, Jerry Seinfeld once riffed, which means we would rather be the person in the casket than the one giving the eulogy.

But when we break it down for clients, piece by piece, we chip away at their fear. We coach them on pacing and eye contact, volume and inflection, how to process their slides, when to ask for questions and what to do with their hands, that can be most vexing.

Going into a public speech, the anxiety can be sizeable, but the payoff is even greater. It’s liberating to conquer a fear – especially one so vital to professional advancement.

Spring is the perfect time to take a risk and break free from the inertia of the status quo. It gives a new perspective and reminds you of your value as a learner and a leader. From the playground to the workplace, risk-taking is the key to reaching new heights. What are you waiting for?

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Communications, based in Coralville. For more information, visit