When I told a good friend of mine that I was going to write my next post on how to advance a financial career by taking risks, he stopped what he was doing, grasped my arm and said earnestly, “Joe, risk is a four letter word.” And yet, each day we take risks, some calculated, some a bit more spontaneous. Why don’t more of us take risks to advance our financial careers? When I’ve spoken to my senior finance contacts, their message around risk taking is consistent – all of them, at one time or another, have taken risks to get to where they are today. What I’ve done in the post below is find the consistent themes in their stories around risk taking. I have to say, some of what they said surprised me.
Take on New Projects and Roles – Part of being successful and advancing your career, is a strong willingness to step outside of yourcomfort zone. Each of the executives I spoke to all saw challenge as a good thing, a way to develop themselves and build new skills. Ghazala Parvez, CFO, took a risk when Newstar, the company Parvez was working for as Director of Finance, was purchased by BCE Emergis, and her new bosses, “didn’t know what to do with [her].” Because she was open to change and communicated this clearly, Parvez was given an opportunity to take on a role in SAP implementation. And while she acknowledges that it was a challenging time, she succeeded, did well and got promoted. As Parvez says, it was good that she opened herself to that opportunity, because “constant challenge comes with taking a senior position.”
Part of being successful and advancing your career, is a strong willingness to step outside of your comfort zone.
Be Willing to Take a Step Backwards – For many of us, it seems a risky proposition to willingly take a step backwards in order to move our career forward. It is this willingness, however, that can propel us to the next stage in our financial career. Ernest Cleave, CFO and VP of Cline Mining Corp, told me that when he moved from South Africa to Canada, he took the first job he could find, a job he acknowledges was not in alignment with his skills. It was this job, however, that allowed him to build his network, and transition into a job that was more suited to his skills and personality. “Be humble. It allows you to take steps back before moving forward.” The strong personal referral he gained from working in a job that may have felt beneath him, allowed him to get to where he wanted to go.
Be humble. It allows you to take steps back before moving forward.
Be Flexible – This point, brought forward by Ghazala Parvez had me shaking my head in confusion at first, particularly when she elaborated by saying that in order to advance your career, you should not set too specific a goal. As she explained herself though, I saw her reasoning and it made sense. To Parvez, very specific goals can limit you and close you off from pursuing great opportunities. She is quite emphatic on this point. She used the example of setting the goal of being a CEO, “I believe in being open to the things that are around you and chasing what you want when you see it. You can say that you want to be a CEO of a billion dollar company, but how do you know that is what you want? You don’t know, because you haven’t been there, and it just feels more natural to recognize when you are in the wrong place. You can then look for your next challenge, embrace it and work to its conclusion.” In other words, be open to the opportunities around you and don’t get tunnel vision about one specific goal. You may miss the very opportunity that could advance your financial career.
You can then look for your next challenge, embrace it and work to its conclusion.
Accept Regrets – This is perhaps the greatest limiting factor for many people – what if the company I go to, or the new position I accept, is worse than the place I started from? Our fear of the unknown keeps us in one place, preferring what is at least familiar, even if we are not happy. Craig Broughton, CFO at Bermingham Financial Solutions says that when he left Siemens to go to another company, he knew that he had left a good team behind, “I didn’t realize how good my team was.” He acknowledged the regret and then moved on, eventually using the lessons he learned to build a very strong team at his next company.
Our fear of the unknown keeps us in one place, preferring what is at least familiar, even if we are not happy.
While taking risks may make us uncomfortable, being open to opportunities and embracing a challenge may be what moves us to the next level. Take some time to understand what you want, plan a bit if that makes you feel more comfortable, but at the end of the day, it is your willingness to take calculated risks that could make the difference in your career. I’ll leave you with some final words from Ernest Cleave:
…many people are scared to take risks and yet they still want to advance. At times you are going to be worried about how you are perceived, but your ability to control the worry and push yourself to take risks will allow you to stand out…My advice: Don’t be afraid of challenging yourself. That fear, more than anything will hold you back from your potential.