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Why Leaders Should Welcome Discomfort

This week, my personal trainer pushed me harder than I have been pushed in a long while.

To say I felt “some discomfort” in the days following that mammoth sesh was an understatement. This is me using a straw in my coffee as a result of literally not being able to lift my arms.

But here’s the thing. I was willing to put up with some discomfort in order to get stronger and reach my fitness goals.

It’s a bit like that in leadership.

A leader needs to become comfortable with discomfort.
Tweet: A leader needs to become comfortable with discomfort. http://ctt.ec/_mcx3+ via @suzimcalpine #leadership #nzlead

Becoming a better leader, or person for that matter, requires us to change, grow and develop.  And in order to transform, we must get outside our comfort zone and go into the Red Zone.

As Pierre Gurdjian, Thomas Halbeisen, and Kevin Lane say in their McKinsey article, Why Leadership Development Programmes Fail;

“Addressing the root causes of why leaders act the way they do can be uncomfortable for participants, program trainers, mentors, and bosses — but if there isn’t a significant degree of discomfort, the chances are the behaviour won’t change.”

Here are just 5 examples where living with discomfort is a good thing:

1. Managing and addressing conflict.
2. Giving difficult but necessary feedback (aka crucial conversations).
3. Being under the accountability spotlight for a poor decision or bad result.
4. Knowing you need to implement redundancies in order to enable the organisation to survive and flourish (and what that means to the lives of those affected).
5. Generally feeling the weight of responsibility in leading a team of people i.e. the weight of accountability.

What is your relationship with discomfort in relation to your leadership?

If you look at yourself honestly and compassionately, do you find yourself finding ways to avoid being in discomfort? Of sitting in that “too tight shoes” place?

I urge you to change your relationship with discomfort.

Don’t automatically seek to avoid discomfort, but rather see it as a necessary part of being a leader.
Tweet: Don’t automatically seek to avoid discomfort, but see it as a necessary part of being a leader. http://ctt.ec/587q2+ via @suzimcalpine

Welcome it in.
Listen to it.
Tune into discomfort.

What is it telling you?

It may be your discomfort is about guilt of not being as ethical as you should.
It could be you are ignoring your intuition.
It could be you are growing – personally and professionally.

Some of my biggest learnings have been preceded by a period of discomfort. Breakthrough in any sphere of my life has rarely occurred without discomfort.  So it’s ironic that we seek to avoid it.

Learn to live with discomfort.

As leadership guru and blogger Seth Godin says;

“Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone. When your uncomfortable actions lead to success, the organization rewards you and brings you back for more.” 

And as another great leader, John F. Kennedy, espoused;

“Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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