Thriving When You Are Out of Your Comfort Zone
IN MY thirty-plus years as a business coach, I have seen thousands of brilliant, charismatic, and driven thinkers make it to their dream positions in high leadership and thrive there. While they all had wildly different career paths, they all agreed on one thing: The road to success leads out of your comfort zone.
At one point in their career, all the top-level executives I have coached had to take a risk and accept an assignment, team, or job they didn’t feel entirely comfortable with. Their career risk paid off – but it doesn’t always. So, when you take your own leap of faith, how can you make sure you stick the landing? Here’s what I have learned.
Imagined Inadequacy: Dealing with Imposter Syndrome
As you move out of your comfort zone and into a position where you lead a larger group of people with a variety of skills and responsibilities, you won’t be able to solve every problem with your technical expertise alone. And when you’re out of your depth, it’s easy to feel like an imposter at times.
Imposter syndrome means feeling inadequate and unqualified, and simply not good enough. It’s often paired with a sense of irrational dread and the constant worry that everyone will one day find out that you are a phony and really not as competent as you pretend to be. This feeling can stifle your potential as a leader, impair your ability to see a problem objectively, and lead to stress at work – and yet, it’s a common issue: Between 70 and 90 percent of adults experience imposter syndrome when they push themselves out of their comfort zone.
What can be done to combat it? First, recognize that the feeling is normal. If you don’t feel a little bit insecure from time to time, you might be getting overly confident or even arrogant – and that’s a much more dangerous path to be going down.
Secondly, make use of the resources around you to gather more expertise. Ask yourself: “Who do I know who has a piece of the information I need?” Take advice from peers whose expertise you can trust and adjust your own perspective accordingly. While you should never dismiss your own experience and gut feelings, don’t be afraid to bring someone on board who might know more than you about a specific topic.
Pinpointing Contributions: Your Unique Value-Add
There is a third, even more powerful antidote to imposter syndrome which involves understanding what you uniquely bring to the table. Once you know your primary value-add, you can worry less about what you don’t know and focus more on what you do know.
Even when you are doing something completely new, you’re never starting completely from scratch. Some of your knowledge and experience will be applicable and transferrable to this new domain.
And no one expects you to know it all. There are many other ways of adding value: Think about people you have worked for in the past whose leadership you admired. Consider the way they influenced you – the words they said that you found inspiring and motivating, the time they took to hear you out, the ways in which they gave you advice and coached you. What made you appreciate them?
Great leaders that span across multiple functions and areas are not hired to be an expert in every single field. They are valued for their ability to see the big picture, to connect across domains, and to inspire others to get their best work done. Your job is not to know everything, your job is to enable everyone to make their best contribution.
Nurturing Networks: The Power of Relationships
Your ability to tap people in your network and beyond, to inspire them and to entice them to join you are the essential components of how you’re going to manage the risk you have taken on. To succeed you will need to have the right kind of conversations with many different people.
You’ve probably heard this piece of advice in the past, but it’s the hardest one to get right. There’s a reason why it’s called the art of leading people and not the science.
Why are people following you now that your content knowledge is no longer your defining quality? It could be that they will want to interact with you because they sense you believe in what you are doing. They may follow you because they like you. They may respect you as a person and appreciate how you treat people. And they may follow you because they are excited about the team that you’ve brought together and look forward to working within this group of people.
In addition, people will want to work with you because they’re confident about their own ability to help articulate the future, define the problem, come up with the solutions, and chart the course. That lets you off the hook from having to know all the answers. Your skill now is in bringing that group of people together, encouraging them to have ownership, and finding the best in each of them.
Inspiring Climates: Taking Your Team to the Top
In your new position, you still own the decision about direction. You still own the outcome. But that doesn’t mean you will succeed by dictating the steps to get there. Your ability to bring people together will come from your understanding of each person on your team and how their individual goals and strengths align with the interests of the company.
What do the people on your team care about? What are they individually motivated by? Where are they at their best? Where are they at their worst? You will bring your team members to a new level by creating the conditions that let them realize their aspirations and allow them to be their best.
Entering a New Comfort Zone
When you move out of your comfort zone, you enter an uncharted territory full of possibility, but also full of unfamiliar roadblocks. In order to once again feel comfortable and thrive in your position, you’ll need to combat your own feelings of insecurity and understand the new kind of value you bring to the table. In addition, your success will be dependent on how well you can bring people together who are excited to discover the path to a better future with you.
That’s the secret to getting out of your comfort zone.
Dr. Wanda T. Wallace, managing partner of Leadership Forum, coaches, facilitates, and speaks on improving leadership through better conversations. She hosts the weekly radio show and podcast “Out of the Comfort Zone” and is the author of You Can’t Know It All: Leading in the Age of Deep Expertise. Learn more at leadership-forum.com, wandawallace.com, outofthecomfortzone.com.
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