Leading Employees Past Their Comfort Zones

By March 14, 2018 No Comments
fish jumping out of water

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” – Abraham Maslow

As a manager, it can be a challenge to motivate employees to do things differently, particularly if they’ve been in the workplace for some time and have a “we’ve always done it this way” mindset.

In the current change-a-minute business environment, the key to success is to help your employees shed this inertia and branch out for success. Leaders, employees and companies no longer have the luxury of riding on yesterday’s achievements. Bursting through the edge of your comfort zone is now mandatory for business success.

First, you’ll need to determine what your employee’s comfort zone is. What’s the best way to determine someone’s comfort zone? Observe and Listen!

For example, you’ve noticed that an employee is reluctant to make presentations, but you know that mastering this skill will provide them with the visibility and confidence they’ll need to maximize their career potential. A good strategy is to first talk with them and determine the underlying cause of their resistance to speak in public (most likely fear of embarrassment, self-consciousness, fear of failure, etc.).

Once these issues have been determined, take this three-step process to success:

1. Help the Employee Determine the “Why.”

In order for an employee to break through their comfort zone, the desire to change has got to be greater than the fear of change. There needs to be a strong “why” before change happens.

Your role is to convince employees that the short-term “pain” of doing something uncomfortable is worth the long-term “gain” of attaining a goal.

Often, the “gain” can be career development and eventual access to larger roles within the company. Accordingly, you should have a system in place to reward those who stretch their limits.

2. Baby Steps Are Better Than Giant Leaps

Managers sometimes try to dramatically change the way people do things, but this approach is often ineffective due to the natural tendency to avoid change. You can build an employee’s comfort and confidence levels in this process by emphasizing an incremental approach to behavioral change and skill enhancement.

Using a sports analogy, a right-handed basketball player may need to develop strength in dribbling with their left hand. They’d begin by trying at home, then in practice sessions, followed by scrimmages, and then over time they’ll be ready to use this new skill in an actual game. Throughout this process a good coach will positively reinforce the effort regardless of the result (e.g., “Great job using your left hand” after a missed layup).

Similarly, you don’t want to immediately put a self-conscious speaker at the podium of an industry conference. Instead, you could start by encouraging them to take a public speaking class, and then having them speak regularly before a supportive group of 4-5 people.

3. Provide a Support System

Remind the employees that they will inevitably make mistakes, but that these missteps are an essential part of the journey to mastery.

Science has proven that, left on their own, people will often gravitate toward the most comfortable and predictable circumstance. Your role as a leader is to create a “stretch” environment where all employees push themselves – and each other – to move past their self-imposed limits by embracing the learning curve (and errors) that often accompany bold initiatives.

Finally, to demonstrate the benefits of working outside your comfort zone, you’ll need to personally “walk the walk” by having the courage to obliterate your own comfort zone. Nothing would create more limit-pushing authenticity for a normally buttoned-down leader than to belt out Bob Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” at karaoke night!

In a recent Gallup poll, 87% of Millennials said development is important in a job. When employees – especially Millennials – are provided with legitimate opportunities for advancement and professional development they are more likely to remain with the employer.

By encouraging employees to crush their fears and exit their comfort zones, you will be the type of leader that not only retains top employees, but also achieves the positive ROI that only exists when people are encouraged to push their personal boundaries.