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Get out of your comfort zone

Why getting out of your comfort zone is so important for leaders

Today’s workplace is multicultural, multigenerational, and far more complex than the office of yesteryear. Rather than blustering or bullying their way through these changes, good leaders learn to adapt to the new reality by becoming fluent in leading and communicating with people who may think differently than they do. Jane Hyun, has some specific advice for leaders trying to make this transition.

Move beyond the Golden Rule

  • Adapt your leadership style to match the different communication preferences of your employees.

Prepare for each interaction

  • Acknowledge that your default mode of communication may not work for this individual.
  • Pre-engagement questions:
    1. What is he/she thinking?
    2. How do I best connect with this person?
    3. How can I put myself in the other person’s shoes?

Over to you

Use this space to reflect on your current comfort zone, and ways to challenge it on the path to fluent leadership.

  • How would you describe your professional “comfort zone?” Are you more open and relaxed, or more brisk and formal? Do you prefer one-on-one meetings or larger groups? Are you extremely hands-on, or somewhat removed from day-to-day operations, focused on bigger-picture goals?
  • Think of a time when you went outside of your comfort zone professionally. What were the circumstances and what allowed you to take the plunge?
  • Where are you on the path to fluent leadership? How could you improve your ability to connect with those who differ from you?
  • In what types of situations can you envision using Hyun’s pre-engagement questions? How about your direct reports?

In Practice

1. Self-assess

Which of the following descriptions most closely matches your response to changes in workforce demographics?

  • No news is good news: unaware of changes in workforce demographics; leadership style stays the same either way
  • Aware of changes in demographics, but largely still reliant on existing management principles and the “golden rule” (i.e. treat others as you want to be treated)

There are no wrong answers; any starting point is fine.

2. Get comfortable with ambiguity and complexity

Now that you’ve reflected on yourself, you’re in a good position to start tuning into others who are different from you. Start by thinking of a direct report whose behaviour is concerning or confusing to you in some way. What aspects of their comments, body language, actions, or performance feel ambiguous?

With this in mind, apply Hyun’s three pre-engagement questions to the relationship:

  • What is he or she thinking? What’s going on in terms of mindset, preferences, and modes of thinking?
  • How do I best connect with this person? What type of setting/interaction would make them most comfortable?
  • How do I put myself in the other person’s shoes? Even though I’m a different person, how can I best understand what it’s like to see things from his/her perspective?

3. Flex across the power gap

In your next interaction with the person you identified, practice reaching across the divide using the responses to your questions as your guide. You could choose a neutral setting to meet, for example, or you could kick off the conversation with some open-ended questions to confirm your assessment of where the other person is coming from.

4. Reflect

After the interaction, reflect on the experience. What are your observations? How did your behaviour and/or modes of communicating change after getting comfortable with ambiguity and complexity and flexing across the power gap?

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Emotional Intelligence in Practice

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