Leaders and the discomfort of comfort

The pursuit of the average leader is comfort. He strives to avoid challenges. He prays fervently to escape problems. He works hard to circumvent stressful situations. Though he opts to enjoy his comfort, he misses the joy of covering new grounds, he does not break new barriers, he never savours the taste of new victories. For the average leader, being normal is normal. But this is not so with great leaders; they deliberately seek discomfort, they do not feel comfortable with the normal. They are always on the lookout for new discoveries to make, new records to break and new heights to scale.

Outstanding leaders are always uncomfortable with comfort because of their understanding that what once worked will not always work. They don’t want to be caught napping, so before the future comes knocking, they travel into it and unearth what it holds so that they are prepared before the future arrives. Those who take risks and dump their comfort zone for the uncharted zone are the ones that make great impact. It’s only when we let go of the safe and the familiar that we develop capacity and are able to optimize opportunities. As observed by Will Rogers, an American newspaper columnist, “You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”

Many organizations yearn for more resources, greater performance and better profitability but these have remained elusive to them because they never want to leave their comfort zone. They want to keep doing the usual while expecting the unusual. The great life you dream about is outside of your comfort zone. To live your dream, you have to leave your comfort zone and move into the uncharted zone, the abode of great possibilities. According to Neal Donald Walsch, an American writer, life begins at the end of our comfort zone. No worthwhile aspiration can be accomplished from within our comfort zone. It is only when we let go of the security of the known and comfort of the normal that a new vista of opportunities is open to us. If we don’t change, we don’t get a change because nothing around us changes.

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Comfort in leadership signifies stagnation. It means dwelling in the familiar. It means running with the status quo. But the outcome of the familiar is already determined. To get a new result, we have to do new things. As observed by Mario Andretti, one of the most successful racing drivers the world has ever known, “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” This is why great leaders are not comfortable with comfort. They look for discomfort because they know that great accomplishments are buried in the belly of discomfort.

Why stepping out of comfort zone is important to success

Over a century ago, precisely in 1908, two psychologists, Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson, carried out a research about what increases performance. They found out that performance is hiked by physiological and mental arousal which is precipitated by anxiety, pressure or stress. Their discovery is now known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law. But the fact is that comfort does not produce any arousal because it lacks the capacity to create anxiety or pressure. It is discomfort, a new experience or a strange encounter that creates anxiety which results in physiological or mental arousal. The import of this is that doing the same thing, remaining in a familiar situation or staying rooted in a comfort zone does not produce the impetus for improvement. Getting new results, to produce new effects or record new success requires stepping out of the familiar to the unfamiliar. This is in tandem with the submission of Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive, that “We need a place of productive discomfort, if you’re too comfortable, you’re not productive.” It also agrees with the view of Brian Tracy, a self-development writer, that “You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”


Moving from comfort zone to greater zone

To move from your comfort zone to a greater zone requires doing the following.


Challenge assumptions

An assumption is something that is accepted to be true without a proof. An assumption is an idea one believes to be true based on prior experience or a belief system. An assumption is a ceiling we place on our thinking. Because we assume, we fail to go any further than our assumption.


The newly-wed and her brisket recipe

A newly-married lady was intent on dazzling her husband with a finger-licking dinner. So she settled for a brisket recipe, her mother’s specialty. She brought out the beef from the refrigerator and slashed off the end of the roast. Her husband, who was with her, asked why she had to cut off the ends which he believed was the most delicious part. She said, “That’s how my mother always made it.” Confused, the husband picked the phone and called his mother-in-law to inquire why she always did that. The mother-in-law responded, “That is how my mother always made it.” Fortunately the grandmother was still alive. So, the husband reached for the phone, called the old woman to find out why she always did that. The grandmother explained, “I always cut off the ends because that was the only way it would fill the pan in my days. But you don’t have to do that now because you have more spacious pans.”

For failing to challenge assumptions, a dated practice was kept in the family for two generations.

When we challenge our assumptions, the veil covering the mind is lifted and new possibilities are made manifest. When we question assumptions we destroy misconceptions. When we challenge assumptions we position ourselves to have a new worldview. When we question assumptions, we are able to look at old issues with new eyes and get fresh understanding. But when we fail to challenge assumptions, we put ourselves under the yoke of outdated beliefs and thinking, thus putting a ceiling on our faculty and a lid on our accomplishments.


Push boundaries

There is no standstill in nature; you either buck up or buck down. In reality there is no stagnation, those who don’t advance, slide. There is nothing so good that it cannot be improved upon. So, rather than celebrating an accomplishment, you must learn to always push the boundaries. Those who move before it is absolutely necessary to do so have an edge over those who are forced to move. This is why the world celebrates those who are prepared ahead of opportunities, not those waiting for opportunities to prepare themselves. So, never be satisfied with any level of attainment. Keep pushing the boundaries to get better and scale up your accomplishments.

To push your boundaries, ask the following questions: Is this the only thing we can do? Is this the only way we can do what we do? Are the people we are reaching currently the only ones we can reach? Honest answers to these questions will help in pushing the boundaries.

When the photographic film industry was hit by the hard times, Fujifilm, one of the strong forces in the industry decided to push its boundaries by expanding its thinking. The company raised some questions that changed its fortune completely. One of the questions was, “Do we have to be in the film and camera industry exclusively?” It was a question that the leadership of the business allowed to permeate the whole company. As this question agitated the minds of the people, they made a discovery, which was that the technology used in film making could be applied to the human skin. With that discovery, Fujifilm intensified research into this area and eventually came up with an anti-ageing skincare product known as Astalift. Today, that product is a market leader in many countries. As a result of pushing its boundary, while many companies in the photographic film industry, including Kodak the indisputable market leader, were swept away by the onslaught of digital photography, Fujifilm survived.


Be driven by your dream, not your fear

Many individuals and organizations never venture to step out of their comfort zone for fear of the unknown, forgetting that doing the same thing and expecting a different result has been described as the beginning of insanity. John A. Shedd said a ship in the harbor is safe, but ships are not meant to be kept perpetually in harbours. So, unless the ship goes out to the sea, it can never realize its potential. Fear is the robber of greatness. Those who give into fear every time, live below their capacity all the time. According to Walt Disney, all our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. Speaking along the same line, Abraham Maslow said, “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” So, rather than allow your fear to petrify you into inactivity, turn to your dream and draw inspiration from the change you will experience should you accomplish it.


Learn from setbacks

Dr Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, once said, “It’s not our failures that determine our future success, but how we explain them to ourselves.” A person does not become a failure because he fails; he becomes a failure when he fails to try again. So, that you suffer setbacks on a number of occasions does not mean you have failed. Many of the world’s most successful people moved from failure to eventual success. Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

As you sojourn into the uncharted zone, understand that setbacks may occur. When they do, they do not define you but they are opportunities to learn and grow. So give yourself a chance to succeed by learning from setbacks when you experience them.


Last line

When you ignore your fears you give wings to your dreams.

Nigerian Tribune

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