Part Three - The problem is that nothing stays the same.
There is within all of us a natural inclination to keep things the same. The problem is that while we work to keep things unchanged, they don’t really stay the same. Once we establish our comfort zone, we often try to stay well inside it to avoid pain, frustration, humiliation and embarrassment. Over time, the comfort zone shrinks. With it so does our view of the possible.
Great achievement requires us to stretch ourselves. Stretching entails risk and the opportunity for a lot of pain if we perform poorly or don’t achieve our goal. Often, we decide we are comfortable within a certain performance range relative to the activities needed to achieve the outcome. Once we learn where the barrier is, we work to stay where we’re comfortable, well within the comfort zone and far away from the edge. Eventually, we work so hard to stay away from the barrier that we form a new barrier well within the original. The border shrinks. The result is an ever-shrinking comfort zone.
The really frightening thing: When your comfort zone shrinks, so does your view of the possibilities. When your view of the possibilities disappear, action seems futile. When action is futile, decline and failure are inevitable.
One real-life example that most of us can relate to has to do with the elderly. Some once-vibrant people who were out there taking on the world through their 60s later find it is all they can do to get to the early-bird dinner special and home before dark for fear of running into trouble and hurting themselves. Some people accept shrinking comfort zones as a part of aging. Many require less and less of themselves over time.
Shrinking comfort zones are not inevitable. They will continuously expand when individuals push themselves through new opportunities and challenges. There are many people who wouldn’t think of skiing in their 70s or 80s, yet a man at my health club tries to ski once each year for every year of his age. He is more than 80 years old and skis more than 80 times a year. There are people who run marathons well into their 80s.
Implication for Leadership
If leadership is moving people far beyond what they thought they could do, then selling people on moving out of their comfort zone is essential. If the leader fails to do this, the follower doesn’t just stay the same, they wind up far less capable than when the leader first met them.
Some people with a poor view of performance enhancement feel that a leader who pushes followers to achieve far more than was thought possible is doing so selfishly. Perhaps, but as you see, pushing people beyond their comfort zones is essential if they are to grow and experience all that life has to offer rather than shrink their view of the possible and capabilities.