It’s Time to Thrive in Your Discomfort Zone

January 21, 2020

Why Real Growth is Found in the Hard Places

Andy Grove is the legendary businessman who escaped both Nazi and Soviet oppression to later become one of the most influential leaders in the tech industry as CEO of Intel. One of his most famous adages reflects the core of his business ethos:

“There are two options – adapt or die.”

This, of course, is just one of many expressions that run in a similar vein: Do or die. Fight or flight. Go big or go home. If you can’t handle the heat, then get out of the kitchen. The version we most often hear in our business dealings states:

“Either you are growing, or you are dying.”

Running a business is not easy, as if we needed to tell you. As business leaders, you probably have examples of how your company adapted in the face of a changing industry, whether by embracing social media, launching an e-commerce platform, or engaging in a similar shift. However, adaptation is hard, but necessary. It’s the reason it can take years, if not decades, before brands achieve significant success, even for industry giants such as Apple, Target, and Starbucks.

In addition to learning how to adapt, you also need a competition-crushing strategy, one that promotes your market differentiation. Moreover, your company must then execute on that strategy with passion and enough cash to actually grow. Not to mention that it helps to have the right people in the right seats to bring all of this to life. Again – growing your business is hard!

Embracing the Uncomfortable

But while the Andy Grove quote pertains to business growth, we believe it should apply to everyday life. When we show up at work, we are showing up as a whole person. We do not leave part of ourselves at home. Thus, we arrive at the following question, one which will direct this blog series:

“Are you undertaking uncomfortable things to grow personally?”

Every successful business leader will experience periods of discomfort. It’s going to happen. They cannot be avoided. Thus, you must find ways to improve how you act and react when you're faced with a new scenario, especially one that sends you tumbling headfirst out of your comfort zone.

The people who thrive in what we call “The Discomfort Zone” have developed the key skill of being comfortable in uncomfortable environments. Research shows us that this is a learned skill. No one is born with it, which means you can only excel if you’re willing to grow when painful situations arrive.

Ultimate success in your life comes when change, even when painful, is seen as a positive step forward.

Your Personal Challenges Impact Your Business Growth

We believe that character is somewhat static. Who you are in your professional life is who you are in your personal life – and this is especially true for high-performing leaders. In our mind, if you have been successful in business, you likely carry that discipline, the need for achievement, and an adventurous spirit into your personal life.

In fact, we regularly find examples of leaders who have built both professional behemoths and accomplished amazing personal feats as well. Think of it as cross-training, but for real life.

Consider Richard Branson, the iconic founder of Virgin Group. In 2019, he completed the Virgin Challenge, which is comprised of hiking, biking, and kayaking 125 miles across Europe. He’s also an accomplished windsurfer, complete with a few world records to his name. Another excellent example is Sami Inkinen. Not only did he create the popular real estate site, but he did so while also becoming a world champion Ironman at the same time.

While not everyone will run a company, you can and should benefit from learning key skills that will help you successfully navigate “The Discomfort Zone.” This blog series is intended to teach you how to first break through boundaries – as in, you will actively place yourself in uncomfortable situations, whether as a team leader or as a member of the team. Then, we can guide you to determine the best way forward.

Ultimately, we want to teach you to recognize uncomfortable situations specific to your personal growth, ones that will benefit you and your team. Once you can do this successfully at both the emotional and physical level, you become a better leader, spouse, partner, parent, friend, teammate, and all-around person. When you are an authentic leader, your team will see your genuineness, and the only way to get there is by opening yourself up as a whole person and welcoming change.

The Importance of Personal Growth on Your Journey to Business Success

Personal growth for your emotions is about becoming self-aware of your abilities as a leader and as a person. If you aren’t truly in touch with how you feel and how you share those feelings – both in your company and with customers – then you run a very distinct risk of not reaching the true heights of success for yourself.

Rob spent part of his life on autopilot – or as he describes – sleepwalking. He spent 18 years running four companies, all of which reached liquidity and sold for a profit. But during his last stint as CEO, he experienced his crucible moment with the sudden death of his wife, complete with three kids at home between the ages of 9 – 13. This threw him into his ultimate Discomfort Zone, and his emotional life wasn’t prepared for such a situation.

Through this terrible life event, Rob started his long-overdue journey to self-awareness, one that has spanned the past 10 years. In fact, because there wasn’t a roadmap that fit his situation, he created his own. He’ll share this with you later in the blog series, complete with strategies to develop your own.

Anissa, similarly, spent 15 years working for five different Fortune 500 companies. She then applied those lessons toward founding and selling two companies of her own. Anissa too had a pivotal life event, as within 8 months both parents passed away, she divorced her spouse of 12 years, and sold her business. For the past four years, she’s lived nomadically, training and traveling the world in an effort to identify the transferrable skills between business and personal success.

Welcoming the Discomfort Zone

Please note – we don’t wish anything bad to happen to you. We just know that true growth can only happen when you face adversity, when your beliefs and values are put to the test.

To that end, we want to share some of the top reasons why getting into The Discomfort Zone is important, especially for leaders (and people aspiring to become a leader). Many of these concepts will be discussed in greater depth in future installments of this blog series.

1. Who you are is more important than what you say or do.

Who you are as a leader cannot and should not be separated from who you are as a human. In fact, executives should help develop a new generation of leaders and retool seasoned leaders. But it’s not about following a set of “best practices,” but rather acting from sincere willingness to make a significant and sometimes personal investment in others.

2. Authentic leadership creates engaged employees

In Gallup’s 2018 report on employee engagement, the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S increased to 34%, its highest level since Gallup began reporting the national figure in 2000. The report defined “engaged” as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. The percentage who are "actively disengaged" – workers who have miserable work experiences – is 13%.

This leaves the remaining 53% of workers in the "not engaged" category. They may be generally satisfied with the state of things, but they are not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace. These are the people who show up and do the minimum required work (or maybe just a bit more so they don’t get fired), but they will quickly leave for a slightly better offer.

Obviously, organizations with higher employee engagement and lower active disengagement perform at higher levels. But the real takeaway is this:

Gallup’s organizational research indicates that at least 70% of the variance in team engagement is explained by the quality of the manager or team leader.

The result? Employees don't leave companies; they leave managers.

3. Be authentic in your leadership style

Today’s leaders are called to do more. Becoming a true leader – someone who is self-aware, vulnerable, and understands the importance of emotion at the job – is hard and uncomfortable work. But it’s necessary for developing life-changing leadership.

Preparing Yourself for the Discomfort Zone

We will help you get ready to enter The Discomfort Zone. Think of this series like going on a long journey through an epic novel. The better equipped you are in advance – if you have the right gear on-hand – the more successful you should be when facing your trials. It all starts with these five tasks.

1.     Explore the 8 dimensions of life and select an individual area of focus.

        a.     Personal/Professional Development

        b.     Movement, Exercise, and Rest

        c.      Nutrition

        d.     Relationships and Communication

        e.     Spiritual and Emotional balance

        f.      Mind-Body Connection

        g.     Authentic Leadership through Self-Awareness

        h.     Physical Environment

2.     Learn key skills for working together to accomplish a goal

3.     Gain a working structure for accountability

4.     Undertake goal-setting both personally, professionally, and as a part of a team

5.     Understand the key steps to learning to accept and manage “discomfort” (aka successful habit-changing skills)

Once you’ve assembled these tools, you’re ready to create your personal and team leadership development plan. By the end of this blog series, we will help you develop such a strategy, one that fits your exact needs.

Change isn’t easy, but the benefits of offering your whole self are innumerable. If you’re ready to take the first steps toward authentic leadership into and through The Discomfort Zone, contact us today for a free initial consultation.