Our topic today is one of the management skills that is oft not considered in seriousness till it gets too late: Getting out of the ‘comfort zone’.
‘Most people experiencing a mid-career crisis might have a thing in common – staying in your comfort zone. One of the most destructive things for your career is to stay on for years someplace you’re comfortable. I’ve done it, and what often results is self-doubt about your value in the marketplace. You wonder if you can thrive outside your current job or can afford to leave your current job. Most people learn the hard way that no job is secure in today’s world. Satisfaction with the status quo or choosing survival over growth won’t help you move toward the future with any success.
One of the basic human needs is for us to do meaningful work. Work that makes you feel good about yourself – celebrates your spirit, your talents and contributes towards something tangible. And by operating in your comfort zone, you are merely surviving.
What is our comfort zone?
I find the following definition apt “your comfort zone is a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk.” It is a place where we can operate without having to put in much thought. Years of experience equip us to carry out tasks with assembly line precision. There is no fear making mistakes because we know every operational aspect and management behavior to survive, if not succeed.
Do you just want to keep your head afloat in the organization? Hope people ignore you and let you do exactly what you have been doing for so long that it no longer amounts to a contribution. Survival without growth is not survival at all; it is a slow and painful death. We only grow by being dynamic with our work, focusing on bringing knowledge-based change and innovation to our organization.
Effects of staying in the comfort zone
When you get to a point where you can operate on autopilot, be sure that stagnation has set in. There is a dearth of innovate ideas and creative problem solving. There is no real productivity because without the sense of discomfort that comes from having deadlines and expectations, only the minimum effort is enough to get by. No ambition to be more involved, learn new things or take on new challenges and opportunities.
4 tips on: How does one get out of the comfort zone and develop new management skills?
1) Discovering your patterns. Reflect on what have become automatic habits for you. Do you react in a predictable fashion when faced with new challenges or new projects? Do your colleagues hesitate in bringing up new ideas because they are afraid you would reject them? Do you have a reputation of being a hardcore by-the-book player? Are you functioning on the past accomplishments and implementing that as the rule.
Consider the processes you employ on a daily basis – be it in operational execution, process management, team communication, relaying information. Try to tweak it a little bit and observe reaction to it. Ask trusted colleagues for feedback on your patterns.
2) Surround yourself with people different from you. Build a team or have a circle of peers who will challenge and inspire you. Examine whether yourcontacts have been same for years? Do you make a network because you are like-minded and share a similar viewpoint? Kevin Daum gives an interesting exercise- “make a list of the five people who have made you most uncomfortable in your life and list the reasons why. Then use the list to create a picture of the ideal opponent for your way of thinking”.1
3) Change your operational sphere. Consider working abroad. Does your company have an office abroad? There are multiple advantages from a career-wise perspective – be it having a increased multicultural awareness to learning new working styles and developing international networks. In the long run, companies always value international experience as it demonstrates initiative and flexibility.
4) Stretch personal boundaries and seek new experiences. A clichéd suggestion we hear often but do not make time in our busy lives. But try to learn a new language or skill. Connect with people that inspire you, or volunteer with an organization that does great work. New ideas inspire us and educate us in a way that little else does. If you put thought into it, you can comes up with ideas that will ultimately enhance your professional portfolio.
On a final note, I leave you with the thoughts of Francisco D’Souza, CEO of Cognizant stating “For employees to thrive in reformulated enterprises and ecosystems, they must escape conventional norms by taking on professional challenges beyond their personal comfort zones. It also means collaborating (often virtually) with new peer groups—inside and outside traditional silos— to find and apply new solutions to critical work challenges, thereby advancing personal and professional growth”
Embrace that discomfort, rather than avoid it. Because that’s where growth ensues.
- Want Success? Surround Yourself With People Who Challenge Your Thinking by Kevin Daum (on Inc.com)