Uncomfortable Leadership

The journey to leadership is disruptive and uncomfortable.

Once we arrive, we find that the act of leadership is also disruptive and uncomfortable.

Can we grow, or lead well, from a position of comfort? Is change ever comfortable?

When we lead from a position of discomfort, we know we are pushing ourselves, and our people, to perform at our best.

The discomfort we experience as we solve wicked problems, build high-performance teams, negotiate tricky contracts, balance risk and reward, and enhance or change organisational culture reassures us we are consciously leading.

Manageable vs Unmanageable Discomfort

Georg Vielmetter & Yvonne Sell in HBR “Leadership is about to Get More Uncomfortable”  write “Good leaders have always stepped out of their comfort zones, but converging global megatrends are putting more pressure on those at the top to navigate a faster, more complex, more integrated, and more transparent business world.”

Experiencing discomfort as we stretch ourselves to lead is not about operating in a constant state of anxiety and stress.  We know that his state of mind impedes our capacity to perform.  We can incorporate meditation, exercise, mindfulness and a range of other activities into our daily practice to bring balance back when we experience overload.

T.S. Eliot’s quote speaks to the need for us to extend ourselves beyond our comfort level, so we can achieve a high level of performance.

This is about uncomfortable leadership.

Leader may be a noun, but leading is a verb – it denotes action and momentum.

Think about our favourite physical activity – bike-riding, swimming, trekking, jogging, running marathons and the like.  If we are pursuing these activities to improve our level of health and fitness, then we are continually extending our reach or our pace.  Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but we relish the feeling of discomfort associated with improvement.  The feedback loop to our brain tells us that each time we extend ourselves, we are getting better at that activity.

The discomfort of leading should be a “good” discomfort.  One that gives our brain feedback that we are achieving our stretch goals, improving ourselves, our people and our organisation.

So let’s be uncomfortable as we lead, let’s be in over our heads, and let’s continue to strive to find how tall we are.

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