I will never forget the first 90 days of my sales leadership career. For the majority of that time, I felt as though I was a fish out of water, constantly struggling to breathe, and many times, I asked myself the question – ‘Is this what I really want to do?’. At about day 120, I had settled into a routine and felt that I was more comfortable in the role – the team was getting great results, they were engaged, and my effectiveness was improving. For the first time since taking on the role, I started to feel like a leader.
That is when my mentor at the time shared with me some profound advice which has stayed with me ever since and has been instrumental in assisting me to continually strive and improve my leadership capability, and that of my teams. It is also something that I constantly share with my clients as they seek to increase their leadership effectiveness, influence and impact. My mentor said ‘Darren, in order to grow as a leader, you must grow beyond your comfort zone’. Now, intellectually, I thought I understood that and at the time recognised and believed that a comfort zone was a zone that could in fact hold me back. In many cases, a ‘comfort zone’ had negative connotations attached to it. However, the way my mentor explained it to me really struck a chord.
He shared with me that there are 4 levels of experience, with 2 of them being resourceful and empowering, and the other 2, unresourceful and ultimately disempowering. As a leader, it is critical that we focus on the 2 resourceful levels. He described level 1 as your comfort zone, where you are doing things that not only feel good, they are good for you, they are good for your people, for others, and ultimately good for the greater good. Things within the comfort zone can become automatic, you have developed a level of unconscious competence and you are able to achieve great results that are consistent and for the most part, sustainable. However, your effectiveness as a leader is also finite at level 1, because your people’s growth and development will be limited by your growth and development – this is the Law of the Lid, covered in John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.
Hence your challenge is to move to level 2, where things here do not feel as good, however they are good for you, they are good for your people and others, and again, good for the greater good. In level 2, there is a feeling of unfamiliarity and it forces you to step up and experience something different, build a new skill, a new capability, or embrace a new challenge. An example could be to begin presenting in front of senior leaders and peers, especially if this is unfamiliar. Or it could be focussing on reaching out to new contacts within your industry to begin building a relationship with, and in the process, expand your network. He said that an amazing thing happens when you begin to explore more and more level 2 experiences – your comfort zone in level 1 begins to expand and after a while, the level 2 experiences begin to be level 1 experiences, and your growth as a leader expands. He said the real purpose of leadership is to expand your comfort zone so that you are able to empower and encourage others to expand theirs.
So as a leader who is focussed on developing your leadership, consider the following principles as you continue to grow :
- Make the decision that you want to continuously improve, grow and develop.
- Identify what elements of your leadership currently sit in your comfort zone.
- Identify what sits outside of your comfort zone and what positive impact that element will have on your leadership once you embrace it.
- Decide to seek out new level 2 experiences on a weekly basis to expand your comfort zone.
- Empower your people to do the same
- Review progress at the end of each quarter, and re-load into the next quarter.
It won’t be long before your leadership comfort zone has expanded so wide that you almost don’t recognise your original self. And when you look at your team, they too will be almost unrecognisable from even 90 days prior – and when that happens, you know you have well and truly established sustainable momentum where the standard operating procedure is to expand your comfort zone. In that process, your leadership influence and impact as a leader will have increased significantly.
To your continued leadership success.
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I would also welcome the opportunity to have a conversation with you. I currently have 2 slots available over the next week for a 30 minute 1:1 strategy call. If you are experiencing a current challenge around your leadership, I would love to help. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a time to chat. No obligation, and no cost. I look forward to connecting with you.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post – I greatly appreciate it, and welcome comments and feedback. Please feel free to comment below, to follow me on LinkedIn, or to connect via Twitter or Facebook
Darren is a Sales Leadership and Sales Performance Coach, Facilitator & Speaker. He is an experienced and committed coach with a background of sales leadership success in large organisations. He applies a genuine focus to coaching and developing high performing sales leaders who are looking to unleash the potential of themselves and their teams.