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Editor’s Note: Dave Kahle has been involved as distribution business consultant for more than 25 years. While this article offers broad advice on the nature of risk taking, Kahle consults frequently with distributors and contractors to help them assess and decide the nature of the risk they might consider to increase business.

What sets the exceptional professional apart from the average Joe? Regardless of the profession, from HVACR sales to psychiatry, exceptional professionals share certain characteristics. Here’s 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 dot com startup that your friend told you about. I don’t mean taking risks that might endanger your health, safety, or long-term security.

Instead, I’m 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 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 percent 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. So, I was determined to do so.

I developed a program, “How to Find, Interview, Select, and Hire a Good Salesperson,” and approached the 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 learn a new set of skills. I could have failed miserably, but the seminar was successful. And that one led to another, and then 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 exponentially exceeds my consulting income.

If I hadn’t taken that first risk, I would never have built a successful speaking practice. That practice has allowed me to present across the U.S. and throughout 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 greater opportunities.

Test me on this. Talk to someone in your profession who has become exceptionally successful. Ask him or her about the risks he or she has taken professionally. You’ll find, I believe, that almost every successful professional has stretched him or herself beyond their individual comfort zones a number of times. Most highly successful professionals carry this characteristic.

If you can build a propensity to take these kinds of risks into your mindset, you’ll grow faster and further than if you remain safely inside your comfort zones.

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 choose to do something differently, you take a risk. When you choose to present information in new ways, contact clients or locate your office, you are taking a risk. When you choose 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, and 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.

That is the sure payoff for every risk thoughtfully taken.

Publication date: 4/25/2016 

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