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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Success and Leadership - Why Leadership Needs to Start Stepping Out of Comfort Zones Again

Success and Leadership

Why Leadership Needs to Start Stepping Out of Comfort Zones Again

Transformational Leadership

Many were forced to step outside of their comfort zones when the pandemic ushered us into an era of “unprecedented times.” But looking back, being outside of the daily comfort led to great new ideas, adaptive thinking, creativity, innovation, and so much more. Now that many are pushing for a return to normal … maybe normal isn’t for the best. But how can leaders put themselves back under a pressure cooker to lead to new ideas when there is a huge push for normalcy in the world around them?

For corporations and business leaders around the world, 2020 was a year of monumental change. COVID-19 forced everyone out of their comfort zones and into new office territory (aka the living room). Companies and their leaders suddenly had to consider possibilities like flexible and remote work, which was discouraged for decades because that’s just not how work got done. Despite this antiquated belief, companies instantly deployed remote work options for non-essential workers in lockdown to great effect.

This adaptation to remote work happened across industries and regions. Restaurants shifted to take-out options, fitness companies and personal trainers offered virtual workout sessions, and businesses in every sector instituted contactless payment and curbside pick-up. Small business wonders created bespoke services for internet clients, and online sales skyrocketed as e-commerce became consumers’ number one retail option.

Similarly, new business applications increased by a shocking 23%. Why? People were willing to try new things. What did they have to lose? The following examples showcase how several companies were able to innovate and expand during the pandemic:

Many business leaders don’t realize that a state of normalcy can actually limit innovation and creative thinking. People are generally satisfied with the status quo, reaching for things that feel predictable and comfortable. When we’re comfortable, however, we tend to do the things we’ve always done in the way they’ve always been done.

Consider the adage, “People don’t change because they see the light; they change because they feel the heat.” Change usually stems from pressure and necessity. Likewise, innovation and creativity don’t flourish when we play it small. For companies looking to win big, it’s essential to see how risk and creativity are intertwined.

Entrepreneurs are an excellent example of this concept. To achieve their goals, entrepreneurs must take several giant leaps. This is where innovation and competitive advantage happens. Risk-taking builds new skills, confidence, and resilience, allowing innovators to see possibilities where none previously existed. Additionally, there’s tremendous satisfaction in accomplishing things that were a more significant risk in the first place.

How to Utilize a Time of Discomfort for Innovation and Success

As leaders, now is the time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. According to Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author: “It takes curiosity to learn. It takes courage to unlearn. Learning requires the humility to admit what you don’t know today. Unlearning requires the integrity to admit you were wrong yesterday. Learning is how you evolve. Unlearning is how you keep up as the world evolves.”

So, are you ready to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? Here are three strategies to help you escape your comfort zone and reach new heights of innovation and creative thinking.

  1. Lean into discomfort.
    Accepting discomfort is not the same as leaning into it. Deliberately and consciously engaging with discomfort (even searching it out) allows us to take charge of a situation, motivating others around us and reinforcing our commitment to innovation.

    A recent study by Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach examined the role of discomfort in personal growth by using cognitive reappraisal, a technique that helps to assign new meaning to uncomfortable situationsThe study asked participants (all adults) to participate in improv classes, expressive journaling, and learn more about controversial subjects, such as gun violence.

    What were the results? Those that were encouraged to embrace discomfort had an increase in personal motivation, pushing through challenging situations and emotions. In fact, according to Woolley and Fishbach, “Personal growth is sometimes uncomfortable; we found that embracing discomfort can be motivating.”

  2. Adopt a mindset of experimentation.
    The world is changing rapidly. This change isn’t slowing down, nor should we. There’s freedom in experimentation. Remember, experiments by nature encompass failure, turning it into learning and continuous improvement.

    For psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, the hallmark of a growth mindset is challenging yourself and perseverance. As Dweck writes, “Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will shore up your self-esteem instead of those who will challenge you to grow? And why seek the tried and true instead of the experiences that will stretch you?”

    Those who accept these difficult experiences and strive for the chance to experiment are those who thrive in challenging times.

  3. Look for adventure in the mundane.
    Remember that sense of adventure you had in your youth? When the whole world was full of possibilities and excitement? When nothing seemed impossible? As improbable as it might seem, good innovators seek out adventure, bringing the risky, the challenging, and even the impossible back into their lives. Even though there can be danger inherent in adventure (whitewater rafting, rock climbing, or skydiving, for example), we should be willing to take the risk anyway. It takes courage, and when completed, is even more rewarding.

    Studies have shown that cultivating a sense of adventure by partaking in risky adrenaline sports offers many benefits. A study from the University of Otago examined how thrill-seekers and adventurers withstood the negative effects of COVID-19 lockdowns. The study discovered that participating in these activities gave people a strong sense of self-esteem, provided a strong social group, and fostered resilience.

    It’s this sense of resilience and humility that leaders need to cultivate. As adventurers in the world of business, it’s essential that we push the envelope, take risks, and develop an adventure-based mindset. Not only does this inject a sense of urgency into our innovation efforts, but it also helps us withstand the turmoils and challenges of the 21st century.

While making ourselves uncomfortable isn’t usually the day’s goal, being uncomfortable is a massive part of invention, experimentation, and innovation. So, what are you waiting for? How will you challenge your business to become its most adaptable, driven, and achieving self?


Written by Gloria St. Martin-Lowry.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Success and Leadership - Why Leadership Needs to Start Stepping Out of Comfort Zones Again
Gloria St. Martin-Lowry
Gloria St. Martin-Lowry is the president of HPWP Group, a company that promotes leadership and organizational development through positivity, coaching, and problem-solving.


Gloria St. Martin-Lowry is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.