Several years ago, I met a remarkable woman through my network. Linda was experienced in the business world and had run significant operations in the telecom industry. Linda also had wonderful wisdom to pass along. One of her best wisdom nuggets related to taking risks. Daring me to be brave when I did not have the courage, Linda often asked me if I was creating “rocking chair moments.”
What are rocking chair moments?
When you are sitting in the rocker on your back porch in your old age, reflecting on your life, they are the moments you will remember. Will you say to yourself…”Gee, I wish I had done that?” Or will your thoughts be “Damn, I’m glad I did that!”?
Most of us want those rocking chair momentsto be the “Glad I did” memories. We can take the rocking chair test for something personally challenging such as jumping from an airplane, or for something that challenges us in our business lives like taking a stretch role or moving your entire family to another country.
Siobhan Smith, of Coca-Cola European Partners, took a stretch role in another country. As you’ll see, it was a “Glad I did” moment that she shared with me:
“Earlier in my career, I had an opportunity to take an international position, which was a big family decision. I consider myself lucky that the IT function was not viewed well and that there were many opportunities to improve the state of the business and the relationship with the business team. When we arrived in our new location, my husband said ‘You are going to be working non-stop. This is terrible.’ I said, ‘This is great. This is an opportunity I can really get some quick wins and gain credibility.’ It truly set me up for fast promotions after that.”
Siobhan’s bravery was a big decision.
But so many rocking chair opportunities come about every day.
Through my executive development work, I have listened to many accomplished leaders struggle with finding their confidence at the right moment. In the book The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, the authors define confidence simply as “turning thought into action.” When running the Signature Select program for Director and Manager level female leaders, we spend a lot of time on the ability to demonstrate confidence when we fail to feel it. These women tell stories where they wished they had spoken up to share their idea at a meeting, but instead, remained silent. They talk about taking a chair on the periphery of a meeting, thinking they are there to be an observer, not a contributor. And when we discuss building critical internal relationships with senior leaders, they sometimes express a lack of confidence to ask these executives for their time.
Having fear of taking an action that leaves us vulnerable is human nature. We tend to focus much more on what can go wrong than what can go right! I had several executives report back to me that after they asked a senior leader for a coffee or a conversation, they were surprised they heard “yes.” And that alone instilled confidence to do it again.
Fear of failure exists in all of us. We often put up our own barriers to success, even when results should counter that thinking.
When I started Signature Leaders, I was completely on my own. During the first year after I launched my start-up, I often asked myself, “What if I fail?” I didn’t, and that first year of business ended up being very successful, but the fear of failure did not go away. My self-talk just took another track. “What if I was just lucky and I can’t do it again?” But like year one, year two was also successful. Even after more than three years as an entrepreneur with several more successful programs added to the business, my self-talk can still play the doubt track and, at times, cause my confidence to waver.
Stephen Hunt’s quote, “If you are not living on the edge you’re taking up too much space,” is fitting. Growth comes with taking risks, failing, and learning from those failures. I believe you owe it to your organizations to live on the edge. Without experimentation, innovation cannot take place, and companies need new ideas and approaches tested every day. As one of our CEO faculty said at our Signature Program,
“I’m hiring an executive that wants to play to Win. I don’t need an executive that plays ‘not to lose.’”
That requires taking risks. Stretching every day.
So wherever you are in your career or your life, take the rocking chair test before making a decision and ask yourself if it will be a moment you will be proud of and happy to remember. Will you look back and wish you had tried more things or taken more risk, or will you have a long string of “Damn, I’m glad I did that’s?” I hope it’s the latter. With the rocking chair test, you can take risks that will lead to growth and fulfillment.