Risk Forward to Become a Better Leader

Keynote speaker teaches performance arts tools contractors can use to improve communication. 

Carol Duncan and Mike Coleman welcoming the Partners in Progress attendees. 

How do you move forward in times when your goals aren’t clear, your plan is still unfolding or you can’t quite see the path ahead? 

It can become a time of uncertainty. 

When you stop and look around and see other people are busy and you see what they’re doing, you start to panic and think if you don’t keep up, you’re going to lose out,” according to Partners in Progress Keynote Speaker Victoria Labalme during her session, “Risk Forward.”

“We fall into this trap of compare and despair or a period of self-doubt,” she says. “We start to pack our days with to-dos, and it can feel like a conveyor belt of activity. You get sucked into a hypnosis of hyperactivity.” 

What you need to do is “risk forward,” Labalme encourages. 

Risk forward is a term Labalme learned from legendary mime Marcel Marceau. This is a movement he taught Labalme and other actors where one’s weight is forward onto one foot and the body is a little off balance but the heart is open. “I’ve come to think of this as a philosophy for life and work and how we can move forward into the unknown,” she says. 

   Victoria Labalme

Labalme had this experience herself after moving to New York to pursue her acting career. She was on her own conveyor belt trying to keep up and get noticed. Then, one morning she woke up and looked outside of her bedroom window to see smoke coming out of the World Trade Center. It was Sept. 11, 2001, and she lived so close to Ground Zero that she couldn’t get into her apartment for weeks without showing identification. Two days later, her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

Fame suddenly didn’t seem so important. Her life focus shifted from recognition to contribution. She kept looking for ways she could help others. She had to trust that inner current and risk forward to pursue a new path. The result was her becoming a speaker to offer communication tips she learned while studying acting.

She shared the following tools she developed through her performing arts training to bring out the best in oneself by risking forward: 

  • Lead with a throughline. A throughline is a driving force of a character’s behavior — something that propels their actions. “Think of yourself like the lead character in an action movie,” Labalme says. “What’s the throughline propelling you through the action of the play of your life? What drives you at work when you’re at your best? When I work with a tech company, I help them realize they aren’t about tech; they are about human connection. When I work with a diet and nutrition company, I tell them they aren’t in health; they are helping people live their best lives. Ask yourself, ‘What’s the nobility behind the sheet metal and HVAC industry?’”
  • Use the right tool for the job. To be an effective communicator as a leader, you have multiple tools you can use: talk in person, video conference, phone call, email or message. Often, Labalme says, “we use the wrong tool for the job. Many times, we use a Sharpie to communicate when we really should’ve used a pencil.” When other people’s input is important, “don’t be a Sharpie leader; be a pencil leader,” she encourages. 
  • Clarify your K-D-F. In communicating, always ask yourself: What is the knowledge I need to share? What do I need others to do as a result? How do I want others to feel when they walk away from that interaction? 
  • Craft your first and final moments. No play or movie begins or ends randomly. “So often in business communications, we blow these moments,” Labalme says. “’This meeting isn’t going to take much time’ is a terrible beginning. Also, you never want to end on a Q&A. You can make time for Q&A, but make sure you have a chance to make a final impression afterward with a story or image.”
  • Lead through possibility. To foster a work environment of collaboration, you want to always look for what is possible versus what isn't. This means encouraging people to share by not squashing ideas. Even what starts out as the wrong idea can lead to the right idea when it is listened to with an open mind and nurtured with collaboration, Labalme says. 
  • Take micro risks. Don’t go too big by expecting your employees to step outside of their comfort zones in a big way, or they won’t. Micro risks are easier to adopt and embrace and they help you move forward in a stable and positive way.