Leading by Leaps and Bounds

Risk, Reward and Emotional Intelligence for the New Year

“If you don’t go out on the branch, you’re never going to get the best fruit.”

Sarah Parish

Great rewards can be gained by taking a smart leap every now and then, yet despite the positive outcomes, research shows that many people skip past that Monopoly square marked “Chance.” In fact, the human race has actually become more risk-averse in recent years—much to its detriment. Social worker and family therapist Michael Unger, Ph.D., states that “by bubble-wrapping our lives, we may inadvertently be taking away opportunities to experience the building blocks of psychosocial growth — which may be the biggest risk of all.”

“To grow, we need to experience challenges—whether we’re 4, 14, or 40.”

Michael Ungar, Ph.D., social worker, family therapist

Early man took chances in order to survive, but now we must take them in order to thrive. Taking smart, informed risks is the foundation to living fully; it is tantamount to personal and professional success and absolutely crucial to human development, according to experts. Actors quickly learn the advantages of leaving their comfort zone and taking risks at every audition, in rehearsal and performance. Here’s what you can borrow from them to build your own “risk-takers advantage” and L.E.A.P. into deeper rewards in 2018.


Taking risks can lead to previously unconsidered rich and prosperous paths. Moving to upstate New York brought me both acting jobs I hoped for and a host of jobs I’d never envisioned: managing a small fitness center, working with developmentally disabled adults, and being a keynote speaker for the New York State Department of Human Services. Draw an Endeavor Roadmap: Write a key endeavor or experience from your past within a circle. On the left list the anticipated benefits you got; on the right list the unanticipated outgrowth and benefits. Next to each of these, list two reasons you’re grateful to that new pathway. Seeing clear evidence of benefits and growth you’re your past will deepen trust and truly motivate change your next leap of faith. 


Voluntarily stepping into the unknown is uncomfortable because it exposes our vulnerability. However, “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, joy, courage and empathy,” according to author and research professor, Dr. Brene Brown. Empathy is a crucial building block of compassion, acceptance and tolerance – qualities necessary for every human being. Practice self-acceptance and appreciation; trust your own worthiness. Recognize your escape attempts—catch yourself when you’re building walls, being distant, or avoiding a situation. Figure out why you’re sidestepping certain people or circumstances and correct your actions by sharing what you feel. By embracing vulnerability more often you’ll feel less discomfort with it, building your capacity to step into the unkown with more courage.


While studying with a singing coach, I decided to give musical auditions another try after an eight-year absence. I didn’t book any musicals that first year, but my voice improved significantly and it was mine to keep. Learn a new role at work or take a course outside your expertise to build both hard and soft skills. Learn a new language or study a subject outside your area of expertise. Or, take an acting class. Venture into new territory: start a neighborhood book or wine club, go on vacation by yourself or travel abroad. You will boost your flexibility, creativity, listening, observation and focus—all crucial leadership skills.


Reframe perceived failure as priceless feedback. Stumbling and rising again—like learning to ride a bike—builds meaning, innovation, accomplishment and self-respect if you can learn from each setback. Dig in to determine what (if anything) you can do differently to help circumvent similar events in the future. Keep it positive: What part of this setback was useful, enjoyable or valuable? Take it a step further and write a setback CV; jot down every failure you’ve experienced and for each, list at least eight positive lessons, insights, advantages or benefits gained from it. It is transformational to see on paper your less favorable endeavors that bore multiple gifts.


When we see the opportunity for expansion rather than inadequacy, and remember that the most successful people fail every day, failure becomes merely a stepping-stone and not a permanent event. Only then we are truly able to soar above high above our limitations.