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  • Kathleen Phelps

Leading Beyond Your Comfort Zone (and Exploring New Territory)

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Everything I’ve done in the last year, I’ve never done before” Rachel Tipograh CEO and founder MikMakTV

Greatness doesn’t come from comfort zones. We all know this intuitively, and yet…

Thinking back on many of my coaching conversations over the last month—with executives from different backgrounds and different countries—I encouraged them to examine their default way of thinking (or behaving). They needed to stretch out of their comfort zones, to find new lenses with which to view issues they wanted to change or influence.

The book What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith, explores executives’ over-reliance on their comfort zones, and the need for agility in responding to complex and ever-evolving business challenges.

Many of the attributes that have contributed to a leader’s success in the past are exactly the things that are going to prevent them from making the contribution that is needed now.

Imagine a brilliant COO charged with making difficult operational and interpersonal decisions in a turn-around situation. After shrinking the organizational footprint and instituting cost saving measures, he is later asked to focus on growth, on building relationships, and fostering a culture that aligns with a new corporate vision.

What got the COO here will not get him there, unless he is willing to stretch. He will need to intentionally downplay some of the thinking and behaviors that were strengths in the past, and move into what may be unfamiliar territory in order to move the organization forward.

There is courage required to deliberately lead outside of one’s comfort zone.

By virtue of their position, leaders are more visible—and so are their ‘failures’.

But as in all of life, mindset is everything. What do you choose to tell yourself about your attempts? Are you hyper-focused on—or critical of—not performing with the ease to which you are accustomed? Or with a nod to The Art of Possibility by Ben and Roz Zander, do you give yourself an ‘A” for the effort alone? Could feeling uncomfortable and acting anyway, be your measurement for success,

regardless of how perfectly you ‘execute’?

The classic HBR article on the challenges of “teaching smart people how to learn” makes the counter-intuitive claim that smart people have the greatest resistance to experimenting on the job when it comes to their behaviors. This can be true for even the most well-intentioned executive.

Successful, smart people are invested in that identity, and in general, are not comfortable being in the space of “I don’t know” or ‘ I am new at this”.  And yet…it is this willingness to be in the uncomfortable-ness of  ‘beginner’s mind’ that offers the greatest opportunity for growth.

If you are uncomfortable, but acting with intention—you’ve caught yourself in the middle of a growth spurt. Feel free to celebrate!

Tweet: If you are uncomfortable, but acting with intention—you’ve caught yourself in the middle of a growth spurt. Feel free to celebrate!


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