Smashing Through the Comfort Zone

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By Lead in the Moment guest blogger, EJ Widun

As leaders, we spend a lot of our time thinking about how to bring our team to new levels of success. As servant leaders, we are always looking for ways to breakdown barriers and empower our team members for their personal fulfillment and success. My question is whether or not we truly live and practice this in our personal life or do we simply focus on the team?

As leaders, we are called to lead by example. We are also called to sharpen our own skills. If we are not sharp and constantly learning and developing, how can we expect our team members to live what we ask?

I find this to be one of the hardest things about leadership to practice. I spend a lot of time focused on my team and will delay my own development. What ends up happening is that I grow complacent. I will put off my development at the expense of the team and say that I will make that up later. The problem with this statement is that later never comes. Daily leadership challenges will aid in your development, but are you really pushing yourself. Are you pushing your limits and thinking differently?

For me the concept of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone came several years ago. I attended a team-building event on a high ropes course. The goal was to climb a three-story tower that required you to stretch yourself to reach the top. On this day, I reached my personal threshold; I was half way up the tower and didn’t think I could go further. My team below me began to cheer and push me forward. In the end, I made it to the top of the tower and I learned that limits and development are often self-fulfilling statements. Today, I will continue to push my goals and growth in several ways. I will add more miles on to my daily bike ride, when I think I cannot go any further. Other times, I will receive encouragement from others. I had this experience again recently. I was co-authoring a piece with my wife Kristin and I did not want my name on it. I have not published anything since the first Bush was president. She told me to embrace the opportunity to put myself out there. If not this time, then it would come soon. We co-authored our first piece and published it this week.

No matter where we go in our careers, always push yourself and help push others. You never know whom it may help.

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Who Are You?

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As I look to make changes to my current website, it has become an interesting exercise in identifying who I am and what do I want to accomplish?

So many times an organization will write a business plan based on a life-long dream, create all of their content, start to sell their product and then forget what motivated them in the first place. Or better yet, what happens when things change and the dream evolves into something completely different than what they originally started with?

Would you consider this an identity crisis? An organization thinks they know what direction they want to move, but after a bit they start moving in a different direction. A case of a short attention span – possibly? I believe it can become an identity issue when you attempt to continue with your initial plan while dabbling in something new, and not doing either especially well. It becomes confusing to the public, let alone your team members. What do your customers expect when they walk through the door? Are your team members able to clearly communicate what it is you do?

For example, think about what every major fast food chain has tried to morph into. For many consumers it has become confusing. Most chains had their specialty and they did it well. Now, when you hit the drive-thru at any major chain, the menu is so expansive and diverse, you wonder what exactly do they specialize in? I realize the public gets bored, but it seems to me that most of the fast food chains have lost their identity as they try to appease absolutely everyone. And, it appears many of them are not doing well financially. A correlation? Maybe.

I am going through the same identity crisis as I have started to move down a different path than the one I originally thought I would travel. I don’t see it as a bad thing, just something new that I need to explore and figure out. We should consistently revisit who we are and what motivates us. If it is the initial idea, then great! If it is not, that is okay too.   That gives you an opportunity to explore your passion and figure out the best path to take.

Do You Have a Back-Story?

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A strange thought occurred to me the other day when I was preforming my annual after-Easter tradition of turning all of the Easter eggs into egg salad. As I was peeling and mashing up a dozen hard-boiled eggs, I noticed there were a few eggs where the coloring had gone through onto the egg white. This is nothing new, typically when small children color Easter eggs, the words “gently place the egg in the color” does not apply and a few eggs will be cracked, allowing the egg dye to seep through.

Where am I going with this, right? If I went to the store and bought egg salad then discovered small pieces of green and blue in it, I would definitely return it. However, I don’t have a problem with small pieces of green and blue egg in my own egg salad because I know why it is there.

How many times have we taken a look at a person or situation in a negative light because we do not have all of the information? We are quick to judge something because it looks unusual or appears unsettling to us.  What happens when we have all of the information about something or someone? Does the same situation that previously bothered us impact us in a different way once we understand the back-story?

I guess you could say it is like the old saying that you cannot judge a book by its cover. Maybe things wouldn’t bother us as much if we understand why. If the pizza you ordered takes longer than 30 minutes and it is snowing heavily, you understand why your order might be taking longer than expected and are less likely to get angry.

Am I saying that you should keep food from the grocery that has foreign objects in it? Definitely not! What I am saying is that sometimes you need to dig a little deeper to understand that there is generally a reason why something might not appear to be as you expect it to, just like green and blue egg salad!

Outside the Zone

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When was the last time you did something really scary? Maybe not jump-out-of-an-airplane scary, but something that put you way outside of your comfort zone. How did this make you feel? Were you relieved when the experience was over or did you revel in the excitement of doing something new and scary?

I believe we could all agree that doing something outside our comfort zone is uncomfortable at best, terrifying at worst. Have we stopped to consider why we become resistant when testing our limits? It is interesting how people will rationalize their aversion to stepping outside of their comfort zone. There are a million reasons not to try something new when in reality it comes down to a fear of failure. Now think about your team members – those who have performed the same tasks day in and day out. What happens when you ask them to do something completely new and outside of their comfort zone? My team members would either give me a blank stare or the famous deer in the headlights look, followed by a vehement “No, I don’t want to do that.” I used to believe these team members were uninterested or just plain lazy. It took me awhile to understand that it was fear speaking and preventing them from taking a chance.

As leaders, it should be important to set the standard for your team members that jumping outside of your comfort zone is okay and encouraged. Trying something new or presenting a new idea is not always easy, but it is important to understand that risk sometimes involves failure and that should be expected and embraced. If you inspire your team members to try something new through your own example, they may see how the benefits outweigh the risks. Showing them first hand that fear should drive them forward instead of keeping them paralyzed in place, can create a greater comfort level with the idea of stepping outside of their comfort zone.

Trying something new can be scary, but it doesn’t need to be limiting. If you are not willing to go outside the zone, where will your next million-dollar idea come from?