Leadership: No Discomfort, No Growth

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Why Leaders Need Discomfort

Why is using a growth mindset important in leadership? Some leaders actively avoid discomfort, not realizing that they are also avoiding the necessary growth that propels them to their best leadership. Great leadership doesn’t happen by itself. It happens when a leader decides to intentionally learn and grow, and to pursue that growth into the Discomfort Zone.

We need to embrace our own journey in order to achieve our potential and become the most effective leader we can be. And the people we lead aren’t perfect, so we’ll need to accept that they are on a journey and are learning too.

If we see the struggle as a brick wall that we can’t get past, it stops us. Rejected 10 times? It’s not going to work out. Group experiencing chaos during a big change? We must be failing as a leader.

If we see the struggle as a natural part of the journey, it fuels us. Rejected 10 times? We’re that much closer to a ‘yes.’ Our group in chaos during a big change? We’re on the verge of progress.

Linda Fisher Thornton, “Leaders, Why You Need Disequilibrium (Part 1)”, Leading in Context Blog

Along the way, we’ll need to let go of perfectionistic tendencies (believe me, I’ve taken this journey myself).

Letting Go of Perfection

Expecting perfection is a huge demotivator. If we expect people to meet some idea of perfection, that will demotivate them and erode trust. It is important to look for the root causes of our perfectionism and overcome any tendencies we have to micromanage and criticize.

Perfectionism is harmful enough to us as individuals (setting unreasonably high standards for ourselves) but the negative impact is magnified when we are leaders (setting unreasonably high standards for others). 

After letting go of perfectionism (expecting things to turn out EXACTLY the way we planned), we also need to step beyond the routine to lean into the challenge of “leaning out” of our comfort zones.

Leaning Out

Sure, being “comfortable” is great, but it’s when we aren’t in our element that we find out what we’re made of.

It helps for us to think about disequilibrium as a necessary part of leadership. It helps us grow and support others as they deal with change. Accepting disequilibrium as “the way things are” (and not something to be avoided) is important for successful leadership.

Linda Fisher Thornton, “Leaders, Why You Need Disequilibrium (Part 1)”, Leading in Context Blog

Some people try leaning out of their comfort zone and become uncomfortable and think that they’re doing it wrong. The “uncomfortable” feeling we get (when we stretch and learn) is a sign of growth about to happen. If we retreat to safety, the growth won’t happen. We’ll be stuck in place.

We talk about “leaning in” to our challenges and opportunities but accepting discomfort is really about being willing to “lean out” of our comfort zones. That’s where the innovation happens. That’s where we see connections and have ideas. That’s where we grow. What’s one thing you can do to “lean out” of your comfort zone today to discover your best leadership?

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