Have you ever noticed that, with the scores of books and articles written about leadership, very few talk about the role being one associated with comfort — unless written in reference to a state of decline, as in, “she became too comfortable.” There is talk of creative tension, the struggles of leadership, the push-pull and paradox of the role, the hard decisions… all of which are true. Wow, sign me up, huh? Is it any wonder that a recent study found that only 6% of Millennials aspire to lead their organizations? Maybe, just maybe, we need to shift our focus.
Leadership is about making a long-term impact, to guide an organization in pursuit of its mission. And if one is to be successful in that endeavor — to accomplish something amazing in the long term — it often requires a willingness to get comfortable with discomfort in the short term. Perhaps it is not all that different from accomplishing any number of goals in life, with one small exception. Leader’s decisions often impact the lives of those they lead. A choice to pursue a new opportunity, with the inherent risk of trying something different… to move resources from one area of the organization to another… to adapt and change to keep pace with the expectations… to take a totally new approach to an old challenge… Each of these decisions, while perhaps critical for ultimate success, can also create a measure of anxiety, fear, or pushback from people whose lives you are disrupting.
Here is the good thing about discomfort — it prompts you to explore options you might not have previously considered as a way to increase your comfort level. Some of the most innovative ideas come out of discomfort, and putting in the extra effort to engage your team to reach for “and” rather than settling for “either/or”. A leader’s job is not to shield his or her staff from discomfort, but rather to help them find a path through it, to move beyond the creative tension and competing priorities to get to the common ground on the other side.
The phrase “too comfortable” often has negative connotations because there is an inverse relationship between comfort and the desire to change. If an organization is going succeed in the long term, it has to be willing to view the inevitable discomfort that change brings in the short term as a steppingstone to new opportunities. Discomfort is not an end, or a permanent state. It is a signal of a decision point — a launch pad to embrace new opportunities, or to retract into the shrinking comfort of what you know.
Discomfort can be a springboard to success, but first you have to get comfortable with it.