The Donut of Impact

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Last Friday was national donut day. And while I make no promises that the glazed or chocolate covered kind will have any measureable impact on your leadership skills, I recently ran across a donut that just might provide the insight necessary to up your game.

Camille Preston, author of Create More Flow: Igniting Peak Performance in an Overwired World, uses the analogy of a donut to describe how a leader can get into a state of flow — where we are deeply focused, engaged and perform at our peak. She identifies the donut hole as our comfort zone, the donut itself as the learning zone, and the outer edge of the donut as “terror’s edge.” If you were to use a scale, 1 and 2 would be in the comfort zone, 3 and 4 would be in the learning zone, and a 5 would represent terror’s edge. (And for those of you who feel like you are at an 8, having careened right past the edge and off the cliff . . . keep reading!)

Here’s the good news if you are clutching to terror’s edge . . . for maximum impact, the goal is not reaching the comfort zone, but rather the learning zone . . . simply one step back from the outer stress threshold which can feel overwhelming and leads to diminishing performance. While many of us seek what we perceive as the calm of the donut hole, we would do well to re-calibrate our perception of the “sweet spot” of leadership effectiveness — it’s all about the donut.

So how do you get from a 5 (or an 8) to the high performance zone of a 3 or 4? Start by finding a place to gain a foothold — a sense of control. One way to “get back on the donut” is by moving from a “they” to a “we” perspective. Rather than focusing on what “they” are doing, ask how “we” are going to respond in this situation. Answering (even in your mind) with “we don’t have a choice” moves you and your organization closer to terror’s edge, while identifying even one step over which you have control keeps you in a growth mindset where you can discover new possibilities, one decision at a time. Notice, I didn’t say you need to have it all figured out — that is a characteristic of the comfort zone, which maintains the status quo but does not result in peak performance.

Challenges, and the learning that comes from working through them, make us better. Your persistence in “finding a way” to tackle hard things can often lead to the most creative, energizing and impactful solutions — and that is a sweet feeling.

I always knew I liked donuts!

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