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Are You A Fearless Leader

I often giggle when someone refers to me as a "fearless leader." I guess it looks that way from the outside, but I have to acknowledge that we all have a bit of fear. Taking risks is just a part of life and business.

Decisions that effect my employees, our ability to deliver our mission, and the communities we serve, all make me little bit nervous at times. I don't have a fear of failing, because as I've said before, failing is just feedback. It provides data that can be used to improve the process.

My fear, is the fear of disappointing myself. I like, many of you, I hold myself to a high standard, honestly much higher than anyone else. I research, discuss and muddle things over until I feel confident in my decision. Sometimes this process takes less than 15 minutes, other times it take weeks.

Early in my nonprofit career, as i was muddling over how to solve the student retention issue, I came up with the idea to charge students a $15 enrollment fee to attend our literacy classes. I noticed that students would enroll and attend a few classes, then stop coming. They would return months or even years later and have to start over. I spoke to the students who had returned and discovered that they didn't think it was a big deal to drop in and out because it didn't cost them anything.

I felt that the students would have some "buy in" if they paid for the fee and would stick with the classes at least until they got what they paid for.

I researched other programs in the state to see if any literacy programs where charging a fee. None were. I called the State Department of Education to see if there were any restrictions that would prohibit us from charging a fee. There were none.

I took my proposed solution to my Board of Directors and after much "fearful" discussion on their part and mine, they approved the fee. We were all afraid of the financial impact it would have on our students, so we added a clause to the policy to not turn anyone away based on their ability to pay.

Our student retention rate improved by 30% in one year and the state officials were amazed as they had never seen a turnaround like that. Every single student gladly paid the $15 fee and many said they wondered why we had not charged for the service before. We were serving over 2,000 students in multiple offices, so while the money was helpful, it was not going to make a financial impact on the organization.

Fear can be good, as it causes one to tread lightly, as opposed to rushing in, but it can also be crippling if you allow it to stop your progress or creativity.

So I encourage you to be fearless and take chances. Do your research, talk to stakeholders and then take the leap. It won't be as scary as you thought.

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