To Grow Leadership Skills, Get People Out of Their Comfort Zones
By Brett Morgan
When I worked in the outdoor industry, I saw a lot of leaders forced out of their comfort zones. To survive in the backcountry, they had to use their physical and mental strength, keep an open mind, and rely on those around them for support.
Some fared better than others, and I found people’s individual identities and corporate positions didn’t determine their levels of success. Anyone could grow as a person and leader during a backcountry excursion, but only if he or she was willing to embrace the discomfort that accompanied the transformation — and you can do the same.
The High Cost of Playing It Safe
Do you remember browsing the aisles of Blockbuster and Borders? What about sharing “Kodak moments” with your family and friends? How did companies so deeply ingrained in our collective memory go bankrupt?
According to a professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, those companies failed because they relied on what had always made them strong. In other words, they didn’t challenge themselves. Kodak invented the digital camera in the 1970s, but the company stubbornly stuck with film and missed a huge opportunity. That cash cow was quickly eaten by competitors who weren’t afraid to run with new technology.
Meanwhile, Apple flourished because it didn’t shy away from innovation. In the 1990s, the company was circling the drain. Steve Jobs could have stuck with what had worked in the past, but he instead challenged himself and his company. And as a result, Apple broke new ground with the iPod and iPhone, which revolutionized cellphones and knocked industry giant RIM off its pedestal.
How Crisis Leads to Growth
Challenging ourselves leads to positive growth — both physically and mentally.
Not only does learning a new skill help create brain cell connections, but exercise also helps people grow new brain cells. What’s more, Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development indicates we tend to develop consistently until we reach a point of crisis. We then either regress or, if we overcome that crisis, experience a sharp developmental increase.
In an uncomfortable environment like the backcountry, we question every decision. We don’t feel confident or secure, which forces us to reach out to each other for support and break down the barriers our ego puts up. This humility opens us up to change. We call this the “stretch zone.”
The more we put ourselves in the stretch zone, the faster we grow. I know one man who started out sweeping the floors at an organization and now leads more than 10,000 employees as the company president. Even at the top of the corporate ladder, he constantly reads leadership books and business books. He considers challenging himself the key to his success.
Shaking Leaders Out of Their Comfort Zones
The great thing about growth through a challenge is that it’s within your control. If you want to grow as a leader, try these strategies for escaping your comfort zone:
Cultivate diversity of thought. Hire people who think differently than you, who Go to the full article.