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How leaders can move past their places of comfort

4 min read


Many of us can get comfortable in the behaviors we use to lead others. It’s easy to continue doing the things we’ve been doing in the same way we’ve been doing them.

Sometimes, we’re not even aware until someone points it out. Your place of comfort allows your head and heart a bit of rest in your crazy world, so you’re on automatic when you go there. Some common examples:

  • You just received a promotion to a senior executive position. This requires you to be less tactical and more visionary and strategic. Yet here you are, still stuck in the weeds of tactics and day-to-day management because this is what you’ve done your entire career. You’re very good at it, and it’s easy. But you have this little voice that you’ve ignored — it’s telling you that your impact isn’t what it could be.
  • You’ve found that expressing your anger is a good tool for you. Everyone jumps, and does the things you want them to do when your voice escalates and histrionics take a front seat. It’s a comfortable place to be, controlling others with fear, and you only use this tactic when you need to. But yet you’ve noticed that you seem to stand alone; your employees don’t speak up when it’s important for you to get their input.
  • You want to be seen as the “go to” person in your area of expertise. When you are meeting with a group of your peers, and everyone is talking, you just can’t seem to get a word in edgewise. You let the conversations and debates continue without you, even if you aren’t contributing valuable information. You think there might be a way to be heard, but it is so much easier to stay quiet.

We all develop habits and ways of doing things that seem to serve us at the time but at some point may need to be abandoned. Leaving that place of comfort can be daunting and some of the hardest work you’ll do. Yet it’s some of the most important work you’ll do as a leader, and it’s capable of taking your leadership to the next level.

Where do you start?

  • Be awake and aware. Get feedback from your stakeholders. You can ask for it, have someone else ask or take a 360-degree assessment. Hard as it may be to listen to the answers, feedback is one of a leader’s greatest tools for becoming more effective. Once you have the feedback, instead of rejecting it or making excuses, observe yourself as you go about your day and validate the truth of what you’ve heard. Are you noticing that the feedback is accurate?
  • Choose a different place to go to. Now that you accept that your place of comfort is no longer where you need to be, consider where you’ll go instead. If you’re too tactical, how will you become more strategic? If you’ve used anger as your “go to” tool for getting others to take action, what might you do instead? If you’re not being heard, what can you do differently to get your valuable ideas across?
  • Just do it, over and over. Now that you have an idea of some different behaviors you can use, try them. Find the new behaviors that work for you and keep doing them. Although the effort you put into remembering to do them, avoiding your place of comfort, and tweaking them to fit a particular situation may seem like an uphill climb in the beginning, they will eventually become habits, with little effort on your part.

What is your comfort place? Is it serving you? If not, what new place are you willing to visit?

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a former corporate executive who has spent the past decade as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.