How much are you willing to risk?”

Free Soloing is climbing sheer vertical walls without ropes. Isn’t that crazy? Why would anyone risk their lives to do that?

Last week I wrote about 4 questions you can ask that will help you in developing your disruptive leadership. Your response will probably be decided by the question I’m asking this week: “How much are you willing to risk?”

Those that follow me know that I’m passionate about disruptive thinking, incredible opportunities and doing what we never thought possible. There are far too many phenomenal opportunities to live our dreams. Unfortunately, most are content playing it safe.

That’s the problem. Too many are unwilling to risk very much.

They want to play it safe.

We can’t really complain about that, can we? After all, very few, if any, really enjoy betting it all. That is simply too risky.

But there are some who do. Make no mistake, I’m not one of them. I love great opportunities but I don’t like risking too much. So this post is directed to myself as much as to everyone else.

But I have clients that are much more willing to risk it all. They see such a great opportunity and know that what they currently have is not worth having by itself. They refuse to play it safe because that is torture to them. They hate missing a great opportunity to have what they ultimately want. To play it safe is the riskiest thing they can do. Ask them and they will quickly recount the risk they didn’t take.

Alex Honnold is one of those people who risk far more than I would. As a free solo mountain climber, he does what most of us wouldn’t. He climbs sheer mountain walls without ropes.  (Watch his TED Talk here.)

I’m not sure about you but I wouldn’t even think about climbing a 3000-foot wall even with ropes.

So how does he mitigate that risk?

He talks about risk, fear and climbing in a podcast with Tim Ferris and in an article by J.B. Mackinnon in Nautilus.

I found 5 important points that you and I can do to help us take bigger risks.

#1. He visualizes his strategy.

“I spend the time visualizing what the experience will feel like.” Since fear is a feeling, he prepares himself ahead of time by understanding what he will feel like at every move. That way, when is high above the ground and about to take what could be a life ending move, he knows what he will feel like. By visualizing every step, he prepares in a way that ensures his success.

Interesting. He sees every step before he ever starts.

As disruptive leaders, we are doing what others don’t, won’t or can’t. To be successful, we need to take the appropriate time to think through our strategy. While we cannot see every step, we can better calculate the risk by looking very carefully at the opportunity. In other words, don’t judge the opportunity too quickly. Granted, much will change and we need to be flexible but the odds increase the more we know and can do.

What scary moves keep you from seizing your disruptive opportunity?

#2. He works through fear.

He says he isn’t afraid. Is he really honest? Can anyone climb Yosemite’s Half Dome without fear?

I like his approach to fear. He recognizes that fear alerts him to a lack of preparation. But the difference is that he prepares so well that he never starts until he has worked through that fear. As he is visualizing, he senses when he feels fear. That fear signals that he needs more work. It is only when he is comfortable – feeling no fear – that he begins the climb. In other words, he works through his fear before beginning.

That seems to run counter to the best entrepreneurial advice. I have seen many miss great opportunities because they waited too long. We definitely don’t want that.

My takeaway is that, as disruptive leaders, we need to work through our fear quickly so we don’t miss the best opportunities. Use it as an indicator of what to be aware of but don’t let it debilitate us.

What steps do you need to take to become so comfortable in your strategy that you can successfully seize that disruptive opportunity?

#3 He knows the reality of the situation.

Critical to his success, he separates his feelings from what is actually happening. Fear is the feeling but probably not the reality.  Too often we are worrying about something that is not going to happen.  He has made that critical separation. Just because we are afraid of something doesn’t mean it WILL happen.

Many of us who fear often visualize the worst case scenario. A relative of mine calls that “Horriblizing a situation.” I like that phrasing. We see only the worst case scenario. That is not the reality.

To be realistic is to know what is possible when we put together that great strategy. It also means that the worst case scenario is not always going to happen. As disruptive leaders, our teams look to us to know the difference and act like it.

As a disruptive leader, are you realistic about the trends, threats, and opportunities?

#4. He really wants to do it.

In the fascinating Natutilus article, he undergoes an MRI to see how his brain is different from the rest of us. While there are some differences in the way his brain works, they are not sure if he was born that way or trained his brain to act and react differently.

While that is fascinating, better yet, he explains that he simply wants to climb without ropes. That isn’t any earth-shaking philosophy, so what is that so important? After all, Napoleon Hill noted the importance of desire in his 1937 classic, “Think and Grow Rich.”

This is no ordinary desire. It is not a half-hearted New Year’s Resolution. No, when he says he wants to free solo, it is his passion. Passion drives ultimate performance as much, if not more than, extraordinary talent. He understates the notion of “wanting to do it.” He has a burning desire, a passion to reach the top without ropes. It is not an empty dream but rather a desire with a clear vision.

Desire, defined that way, drives disruption. If we don’t want to, we won’t. But when we have a desire that cannot be extinguished, that is when we take the necessary action that most won’t.

What do you want? How badly do you want it? Do you want it badly enough to risk everything to get it?

#5. It is his identity.

As an experienced free soloist, he no longer fears because, “This is not scary,” he said to himself, “because this is what I do.” Notice that he simply does it. He knows he can do it and so he does.

But more than that, Free Soloing is part of his identity. It’s not just what he does but who he is. He is an extreme risk taker.

Identity makes the difference. Most people are transactional, doing a job to get paid. Even leaders are too often focused on what we could call, “checking boxes.”

Instead, the identity of a disruptive leader is creating transformation. Like a free soloist, the disruptive leader is essentially different from ordinary followers. We focus on opportunity, not obstacles. We track the trends and forecast the best opportunities. But notice it isn’t just what we do but rather who we are. We are the ones who willingly step forward and take the risk. We are the ones others look to when bold action is required.

Is taking the bold action part of your identity?



Loren Murfield, Ph.D.


I work with leaders and organizations to think bigger and reach higher to find breakthrough success. This is a process that I can help you learn. One of the ways I help clients is by guiding them through my Disruptive Opportunity Challenge.  Begin the process today by contacting me.

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