Think about all the areas of your life where you want to grow. Fitness, relationships, career, etc. To grow in any of these areas, you have to force yourself outside of your comfort zone. Comfort zones fool you into thinking everything is good. But they lull you into becoming complacent and comfortable (hello captain obvious) and eventually keep you from growing.
In business, our own successes can go to our heads. We just came off a great year, or we’ve had a run of several great years. Everything seems to be clicking. The team is performing at a high level. This is when leaders are prone to relax. And that’s when the decline begins. Only the trouble is you won’t see the effects of it until it’s too late. Especially for a seasoned company, it is extremely difficult to turn a dip into a climb again.
As a leader, we can never get comfortable in our successes. Even if you already get that, it won’t come naturally to many of your team members, so you have to lead into thinking that way. That takes a lot of energy and care, but the right people will respond to the challenge. If we teach those who follow us how to stay in learning mode, how to never stop growing, and model it for them, they’ll get it and it will stick. But to do that, we have to believe in it and keep ourselves on the edge. Here are a few practical ways to ensure you can stretch yourself and your team:
- Sharpen your strengths – Success comes from doing what you do best. It seems reasonable that in order to be more successful you should get better at your weaknesses. But that’s actually less productive. Focus on your strengths and stretch yourself through new learning that aligns with what you’re best at. For me, I’m strong in the areas of developing people and ideas. Almost everything I read, listen to, or seek new training on is helping me get even better in these areas. I am constantly reading about personality types and leadership styles, and I soak up everything I can by learning from innovators in business. I do this through podcasts, books and seeking out face time with successful people. The more I learn, the more I want to put into practice, and that keeps me on the edge and growing.
- Challenge the status quo – One of the greatest ways to stretch yourself and your team is to kick “the way we’ve always done it” in the teeth. Challenging the status quo gives your team the chance to innovate, and innovation forces good people to work together to take something good and make it great. Look around your organization and find something that seems stale, something you’ve done the same way for a long time. Pick a group of people and challenge them to come up with a better way to get the results you want, and set a challenging deadline for when you expect results. You’ll be amazed at how the right people will respond and rise to the challenge. Once you do this a couple of times successfully, you’ll get hooked on the impact it will have on your people and the fuel it will give your leadership journey.
- Play dumb – Challenging the status quo takes the wisdom to know which specific things can be done better. It may be a tough tactic for the new leader. But playing dumb is a lot easier. Playing dumb is simply approaching everything you do with the assumption that you can learn something that could be a game changer. Doing this well will help you as a leader because you will learn more than you ever would have without an open mind. And keeping yourself in learning mode is a great example to set in front of those you lead, because the habits of the leader will ultimately flow to the team. This approach is also helpful when you find yourself leading a new team in an area where you may not have a lot of experience. Approaching your new team in a learning mindset vs. a know-it-all mindset will help you earn their trust and support sooner.
Keep yourself on the cutting edge, and consistently force yourself out of your comfort zone. Have a mentor who can hold you accountable to stretching yourself and can be a sounding board for areas you need to grow. But most importantly, teach others to do the same thing. Even if they’re not ready for it.