True Leadership Begins When You Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Recently, Josh and I decided to add some important material to our first-line supervisor leadership class. While reviewing some material on leading up the chain of command, Josh disagreed with the tone of some of my slides. I saw his point, but I wanted to shake things up a bit and get people on their heels in thought. Basically, I wanted to get them out of their comfort zone. Well, this led Josh to look into the concept of comfort zones and leadership. What he dug up in his research is the topic of this month’s leadership article – COMFORT ZONES are nice and cozy, but they kill many important characteristics that make someone a good leader.
We all like feeling comfortable. Whether it’s our home life, our recreational life or even our work life. When one works hard to know their job and develop professional relationships, one also enjoys sitting back and living in the comfortable and competent world he/she has created. One of the most difficult times for a supervisor is when he/she is first promoted. Talk about being outside a comfort zone! There are so many challenges and new ideas to process and implement, it can be overwhelming at times. But, the supervisor learns the job, learns the team, learns how to work with his/her supervisor and ultimately becomes “comfortable” with the position.
The supervisor is so engaged with learning the new position and how their leadership style works within it, they often fail to notice how the learning process is what has made them better. It was the discomfort that developed them. Because of their blindness to “how” they have become who they are, and with their focus on “what” they have become, he/she may decide to live in the comfort zone, or the “I made it” zone. The comfort zone is nice, but as I said earlier, it is not where development takes place.
To quote Tony Robbins, “if you are not growing, you are dying”. I can attest that this statement is true. As humans, it is our nature to better ourselves. Whether it is through pushing our bodies or our minds, We only become better when we push ourselves to new and better levels.
Josh sent me an article regarding leadership and the comfort zone. The author, George Ambler, discusses the three zones of leadership. In the illustration at the top of this article, one can see the three zones illustrated as a bullseye. The center is the comfort zone. This is a cozy place where we can handle what we know. But when one is confronted with a task or situation that one does not know, he/she is then pushed into the “learning zone”. Many find this area to be uncomfortable. One is forced to learn something new. When I was a drum instructor, I would make my students do much, much more with their non-dominant hand. Talk about being out of a comfort zone. It was always awkward at first, but the benefits, in the end, were immense.
When Josh and I teach leadership, we tell our students that they need to constantly learn. Whether it’s leadership techniques, technology, or the names of their subordinates’ children, a quest for knowledge should never cease. This is living in the learning zone. I feel that we should all make the learning zone our comfort zone.
Ambler further talks about going beyond the learning zone and slipping into the “danger zone” (I dare you to not say danger zone without thinking of Top Gun!). This is the zone where the leader takes on too much. For example, an eager sergeant who truly wants to learn may volunteer to take on too many peripheral responsibilities or assignments. Although his/her intentions were good, the eager sergeant may soon learn that he/she cannot adequately run their shift and complete the tasks he/she volunteered to do. The end result is undue stress and the possibility of not learning the tasks as adequately as he/she planned.
So what is the end game here? Whether it is leadership, sports, a musical instrument, a new language, etc, you MUST go beyond what you already know (comfort zone) and embrace the occasional uncomfortableness of learning. One must be cautious and not take on too much for the sake of learning. If too much stress kicks in and one becomes more focused on the stress than the task itself, then adequate learning is not happening.
Article by George Ambler
Tim Jones, GSPCC