Your Leadership Comfort Zone

Escaping Your Leadership Comfort Zone

I recently listened to a podcast in which a marketing coach discussed going outside of one’s comfort zone1,  as it related to marketing success.  Listening to the podcast,  I began to apply some of the concepts to leadership.  Is it important for you as a leader to step outside of your comfort zone?  I think the question is answered in a quote by Catherine Pulsifer who said, “If you remain in your comfort zone, you will not go any further.”  The nature of leaders is to be growth oriented.  Growth requires change and some change requires stepping outside of the familiar or comfortable.

What is your comfort zone?  The term is familiar enough that you already have a good idea of what it means.  Your comfort zone is made up of those areas in your life or leadership where you have familiarity and confidence in your abilities to function there.  The framework of your comfort zone may include areas of relationships, personal development, communication style, your knowledge and skills, and personal cultural norms.  Often the areas are interrelated. For example, growth in relationships may require a different communication style or changing personal cultural norms.

You may be held hostage by your own comfort zone.  Your comfort zone can become a constraint to your leadership or success.  Where you are now, has been determined by your comfort zone.  To grow you must escape.  The choice is never between growth and non-growth.  The opposite of growing is dying.  Norman Mailer observed, “Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less.” Opportunities we miss today often don’t exist tomorrow.   Grab today’s opportunities.  However, opportunities are probably outside of your current comfort zone.

Growth in leadership may be outside your comfort zone.  Influence is a major component of leadership and your influence right now is a product of your comfort zone.  To increase your influence you must escape you comfort zone.  Having a comfort zone implies that you have an discomfort zone.  It may be uncomfortable to learn new technologies, new listening skills, develop new habits, or get accustomed to a new culture.  However, it will ultimately be a greater discomfort stay within the limits of our current comfort zone.  Those who cannot escape of their comfort zone risk the possibility of becoming stagnant, “old school,” or irrelevant.  One caveat:  escaping your leadership comfort zone should not include stepping outside of core ethical or moral boundaries.  If it does, your leadership will not remain legitimate.

It is vital to your leadership to escape your comfort zone; so much so that it is worth the time to think deeply about it, emotionally and intellectually embrace it, and then take action to apply new concepts to your life and leadership.  Brian Tracy notes, Ninety to ninety-five percent of people will withdraw to the comfort zone when what they try doesn’t work. Only that small percentage, 5 or 10 percent, will continually improve themselves; they will continually push themselves out into the zone of discomfort, and these are always the highest performers in every field.”

How do you think deeply about it?  First of all realize that escaping your comfort zone is not an event … it is a process – an ongoing process.   Spend enough time thinking about things outside of your comfort zone so that you can react emotionally to it, facing your concerns, fears, or resistance to it.  We often spend a lot of time thinking about what we can do within our comfort zone, but not so much about what we want to do that is outside of it.  Max DePree notes, “We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.”

Review times when you stepped outside of your comfort zone and review the successes. Even if you failed in your initial purpose, you were still successful in the fact that you had the self-discipline to try.  Then, take action.  Decide on something you can learn or do that is outside of your comfort zone.  Do something that is outside your comfort zone because it is boring or makes you nervous. Each small victory will help you win some other victory.  Try!  Prove to yourself that you can take action irrespective of whether it is comfortable or not.  Start with actions like making a phone call that is uncomfortable for you, do a writing project, or engage in a self-development activity that takes you outside of your comfort zone.  When you do, you may find that it is not as discomforting as you anticipated.  From this moment on, do something in which you escape your comfort zone every day.

Once you develop the skill of deliberately taking actions to escape your comfort zone, then you are ready to expand it.  You need to develop a vision for yourself that is outside of your comfort zone.  It could be a vision to write a book, learn technology, speak at a conference, start a business, or develop a relationship.   I love a quote by Jonathan Farrington: “My experience is that you cannot have everything you want but you can anything you really want, you just need to decide what it is and then plan your exit from the comfort zone.”   How to get a vision outside your comfort zone? Read books by leaders in your field.  Read their biographies if they are available. More than what they did, what they said.  Study their psyche and motivations.  Find podcasts, articles, and videos about unfamiliar information.  Escape your comfort zone by studying information and interacting with people outside of your comfort zone.

Start with one escape.  Build it into a habit and then develop a vision outside your comfort zone.  Remember the Chinese proverb, “A man grows most tired while standing still.”  Don’t wait – escape!