By Leon Gettler
Successful managers are continuously learning and developing. To do that, they always have to be trying out new ideas, testing them and seeing how they work. Successful managers will never stay too long in a comfort zone, that mental space where there are boundaries and you feel a sense of emotional security. Some don’t want to stay in that space for too long and they are forever pushing into new untried areas, trying out new ideas and never afraid of change. What’s their secret?
What’s wrong with the comfort zone? Wikipedia defines it as “a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk. A person’s personality can be described by his or her comfort zones. A comfort zone is a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security. Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or her life, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it.”
Inertia is not exactly a recipe for success a manager.
The first and most important point is to recognise that comfort can be a killer. As Ran Zilca writes in Psychology Today, a lack of comfort brings excitement and comfort brings boredom.
“We live in a society where comfort has become a value and a life goal,’’ Zilca says. “But comfort reduces our motivation for introducing important transformations in our lives. Sadly, being comfortable often prohibits us from chasing our dreams. Many of us are like lions in the zoo: well-fed but sit around passively stuck in a reactive rut. Comfort equals boring shortsightedness, and a belief that things cannot change.”
Teena Seelig sums it up in her book What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20:
“Lucky people take advantage of chance occurrences that come their way. Instead of going through life on cruise control, they pay attention to what’s happening around them and, therefore, are able to extract greater value from each situation… Lucky people are also open to novel opportunities and willing to try things outside of their usual experiences. They’re more inclined to pick up a book on an unfamiliar subject, to travel to less familiar destinations, and to interact with people who are different than themselves.”
So how do managers break out of that comfort zone? Marla Tabaka in Inc.com recommends that managers accept they are less than perfect, face up to and analyse their fears, try to get a partner, let go of expectations and take risks in measured amounts and try to spend time with people who are different from themselves.
Alan Henry at the Lifehacker site says try and do something different every day, from taking a different route to work to learning a new language or even going vegetarian for a week. “Whether the change you make is large or small, make a change in the way you do things on a day-to-day basis. Look for the perspective that comes from any change, even if it’s negative. Don’t be put off if things don’t work out the way you planned,’’ Henry says. He also recommends managers take their time making decisions and to do things in small steps. “You get the same benefits whether you go in with both feet as you do if you start slow, so don’t be afraid to start slow,” he says.
US leadership consultant Michael Hyatt says managers can only really start to do it when they acknowledge that doing something different is actually a good thing and doesn’t have to be scary. Also, they have to notice their fear. They shouldn’t be controlled. More to the point, fear is nature’s way of telling us that you are on the right path and about to experience a break-through. Also, he says it’s important not to overanalyse it – because that will freeze you up – and to jump in with both feet. As he writes: “This is where the growth happens, this is where the solutions are, this is where fulfillment resides.”