Learning to be Comfortable with Discomfort

I was excited to receive the next installment of books from The Next Big Idea Club and thought I’d share some insights from The CEO Next Door, by Elena L. Botelho and Kim R. Powell. While you may not have a desire to become a CEO, there are relevant tips and strategies that can help advance in your career, regardless of the level.

Through interviews of over 2,600 CEOs, the authors found common attributes that contributed to their achievements. They refer to them as the Four CEO Genome Behaviors:

  1. Decisiveness – focus on speed over precision
  2. Engaging for Impact – orchestrate stakeholders to drive results
  3. Relentless Reliability – deliver consistently
  4. Adapting Boldly – ride the discomfort of the unknown

The attribute I found most intriguing was #4 – Adapting Boldly. I find that many of the executives with whom I coach and consult, struggle in this area.

Throughout our careers, we are rewarded and recognized for the knowledge and skills we bring to our work. We become experts. People come to us for insights and direction to prevent or correct a problem. However, when our scope of responsibility increases well beyond our area of expertise, we are confronted with challenges where no one right answer exists.

We must learn to navigate uncharted territory.

The authors suggest that HUMILITY is the key factor in being able to effectively operate in the unknown.

Humility in a leader enables her to understand that she doesn’t have it all figured out. What she knows is less important than how quickly she can learn and adapt.

That leader is then willing and able to learn from others who have different perspectives and experiences.

Regardless of career level, those who can adapt to changing conditions have learned to be comfortable with discomfort and are open to change and learning from the conflict it creates.

It’s having the attitude of, “If I am not uncomfortable, then I am probably not learning or changing fast enough.” 

Two key mindsets for sailing through uncharted waters:

  • Let go of the past – Seek out novelty, take on new habits, skills, and experiences in your personal life to build those “letting go” muscles. Be open to taking on a new challenge or work experience. Broaden your perspective. Be willing to let go of approaches that worked in the past. Actively look for ways to improve and constantly learn.
  • Build an antenna for the future – Shift perspectives by thinking about ten years in the future – what would your successors wish you would have done? Build diverse information networks by going beyond your typical circle of associates and explore what is happening outside the industry. Be curious and ask: “What? How? or Tell me more!

Is this resonating with you?

Here are some questions the authors propose to assess your Adapt behavior:

  • Am I uncomfortable now? What is driving that? What am I working on improving personally?
  • When is the last time I shed something — product, process, practice — that had made me or my business successful in the past?
  • Am I doing this simply because I’m comfortable doing it this way or because this is what is needed in this situation?
  • Am I approaching divergent points of view with an open mind?

What do your responses tell you? Can you adapt boldly?

Change is hard and leading through ambiguity is harder. The reality of our world today is that change is a constant and the pace of change is accelerating, so learning to adapt boldly is well worth the effort!

Martha Duesterhoft if a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.