Playing it too safe as a leader can stunt your personal and professional growth as well as that of your team. Instead, practice the under-utilized skill of taking the intelligent gamble.

I learned this as a rookie gambler on a budget heading to Vegas with some high rollers. I asked a friend for advice on how to win, and he responded by something totally contrary to what I thought:

"Don't go to Vegas to win. Go to get fleeced slowly."

After some research, I gravitated toward Pai Gow Poker where many of the hands push, resulting in a truly low-risk game. The results were perfect:

  • Gradual improvement.
  • Playing all night without losing much.
  • Learning from winning and losing.
  • Enjoying the camaraderie (and free drinks).

Of course, my high rolling friends at first shunned me for playing it. But by the end of the night, they saw the beauty and all joined in. We played it until we were ready for breakfast the next morning, and most of us finished slightly up or with minimal loss.

Leaders can learn a lot from this experience.

It's important to practice taking the intelligent gamble. It accelerates your development, boosts your results, and makes work more fun... all without bringing the house down.

Do this by placing small bets in your work day and taking frequent micro-risks. The objective isn't to never lose--the objective is lose small enough so you can keep playing.

Here are five good examples:

1. Make a confident decision based on the best information available

It's tempting to hesitate for more analysis. Truly "great" data is rarely available, so make a gamble with what you have. Trust that if the gamble doesn't pay off, you and your team will be able to successfully improvise your next step to make things right.

When I led a logistics team for a large retailer, good information was hard to come by. Every day we considered unreliable data about from weather, war, and sales forecasts. Sometimes we got lucky; often we didn't. Through experience though, we improved dramatically over time.

2. Make a proposal that only has a 50/50 chance of being accepted

A sure thing is great, but it limits your range of possibilities. Rejection is a legitimate downside, but often it's temporary. Sales teams know that it always takes a certain number of "no's" to get to "yes."

You can amp this one up by taking on a project that has a chance of failing, but where you and your team will develop rapidly. Maybe your team isn't ready, and this project can help stretch them to become ready.

3. Generate and share a possible solution that may not work

Leaders and teams often get stuck coming up with "the" solution. Take a shot at generating multiple possibilities, and have the courage to share them.

Share any off-the-wall ideas at your next meeting to solve the problem that everyone's been talking about for months. See if this sparks an even better solution.

I've worked with many leaders who wonder why their team always comes to them with problems instead of solutions. Create a safe place for them to get their ideas on the table, and you'll notice an immediate difference. Eventually, they'll start taking charge of the solutions themselves.

4. Bring your personal side to work

Leaders have a lot to keep up with. Sometimes, learning the personal details of your team members can feel overwhelming. I frequently see leaders who aren't sure about the cities where their team members are located, much less the names of their spouses or children.

The gamble here is to share a bit more of your personal side with your team and ask a little more about them. A personal connection is ultimately the glue that holds the team together.

Try the "How was your weekend?" test. Share a little bit about your life outside of work, and then ask someone else the question.

5. Schedule a two-week vacation

Is there really a bigger gamble than this for a leader? Getting this on the books shows confidence and trust in your team, sets an important example, and lets you re-energize.

If you can't remember the last time you took a small gamble, maybe it's time to do it now. You'll discover that the more you practice, the better you get.

Note that small gambles as a leader may become addictive. Be prepared for them to yield big results.