Wholehearted Leadership Opinion: Get into your discomfort zone

Great leaders and entrepreneurs know that the key to growth is putting yourself in uncomfortable situations

Credit: iStock

Great leaders and entrepreneurs know that the key to growth is putting yourself in uncomfortable situations

“Dave, I’ve discovered that my comfort zone is outside my comfort zone.”
What does that mean?
“And I can’t remember the last time I went into work unafraid.”

OK, now I was really confused…
Years ago, at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, I was having lunch with a very successful entrepreneur in our community. This leader had been doing business for decades. He was arguably iconic in many ways.
He had built a business that stretched across Western Canada, with Kelowna being the epicentre of his empire. I respected him as a man, as a leader, as an entrepreneur, and I wanted to learn from him.
He shared his journey from being a terrified young man stepping out into the great big world of business, to now being an elderly man still engaged in his business after decades of success—big success. And, by his own confession, still “afraid.”

As I probed deeper into his “confessions” about his comfort zone and the fear he worked with, I discovered a profound principle, a titanic truth that every great leader, every excellent entrepreneur needs to grasp.

The truth is this: we don’t grow when we’re in our comfort zone. We only grow when we get outside of our comfort zone into what I call our discomfort zone. This particular entrepreneur realized that his comfort zone was actually his discomfort zone. If he wasn’t moving forward outside of his comfort zone, he wasn’t happy.

He had to keep pushing himself. He had to keep moving ahead. He had to keep stretching himself to feel “comfortable.” If he began to coast, if he allowed himself to sit back and take it easy, he would be miserable.

That meant there was always a certain degree of “fear” he came to work with. What was the big project he needed to undertake to keep moving forward? There was always a certain element of, “I’m not totally sure we can pull this off.” In his day-to-day work, he kept pushing the boundaries of the business.

It has been said that, “The only time you grow, the only time you get better, is when you hit that point of wanting to quit, but you keep going instead. Strength isn’t given to you or acquired casually. Strength is forged in the fires of your soul.”

Strength and personal growth is only found in your discomfort zone.

Our culture is consumed with the desire for a comfortable and convenient life. However, comfort and convenience are deadly to creating exceptional businesses, exceptional leaders and exceptional people. True strength and personal growth and development are uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Great leaders understand that their growth, and the growth of their people is found in our discomfort zone. We must choose to step out of that which is comfortable to become uncomfortable so we can grow. We need to quit settling for less than we are capable of because we are too committed to our personal comfort.

Where have you chosen to remain comfortable and know you need to choose to step up—and step out into your discomfort zone to become more than you are right now?

Perhaps you find yourself in an uncomfortable scenario not of your choosing. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed in some way. This could be your greatest opportunity for personal growth. This discomfort zone could lead to the development of a strength you didn’t think you were capable of—one forged in the fires of your soul.

I am stepping into my discomfort zone. I am travelling to Africa with a small group of business leaders. We are going to Burundi to teach Burundian businesspeople about leadership, business and entrepreneurship. I have to confess that I am a little outside my comfort zone on this, but I know that’s where the growth is.

What kind of leaders can we become if we are committed to lifelong growth and development by stepping out of our comfort zones?

Where do you need to get into your discomfort zone?

David MacLean empowers CEOs, entrepreneurs and executives to dare greatly in his role as B.C. best practice chair for The Executive Committee Canada (TEC). David also writes and speaks on Wholehearted Leadership: inspiring, encouraging and equipping leaders to harness their most valuable asset—their HEART. You can reach him at dmaclean@tec-canada.com.