How managers can emerge from their comfort zone to become great leaders
All managers – and even those without the word “manager” in their job title – have the potential to become courageous leaders, push boundaries, and overcome limitations that may compromise their success. It is fear, uncertainty, and the risk of failure that holds us back from becoming great leaders.
We fear failure because the thought of it makes us uncomfortable. However, what we should fear is being comfortable. If you spend your days within your comfort zone, especially as a manager, you will never fulfil your potential, and neither will your team.
To be successful and grow as a leader, you must face your fears head-on. By doing this, you will not only find that your skills and experience develop, but you also provide others with opportunities to learn and grow.
Let’s look at the most common fears that keep managers and professionals in their comfort zone, and how you can overcome them.
#1 – Fear of not being liked
Is it more important to you, as a manager or emerging professional, to be liked and respected, or to achieve your objectives and help your team grow?
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. There are going to be people who will intentionally decide not to like you. Of course, part of becoming an effective leader is learning to identify the difficult behaviours those people tend to exhibit, and developing your emotional intelligence to respond to them in a professional, assertive manner. These are skills you can develop, so there’s no reason for fear.
In other words, don’t waste your energy fearing that some people are not going to like you when it is likely that they eventually will, and it’s completely out of your control. Instead, invest in developing your leadership skills, so you are prepared to manage those people when they come along.
Now, let’s focus on the other people who might not like you but have rational motives; the ones you can do something about. To be liked by your team members, you must first build rapport and establish respect as a leader. Here are some practical ways you can work towards being liked and respected by your team:
- Observe and adapt to others’ communication and behavioural styles. Each person prefers to work differently. It is important that leaders understand that this is not a bad thing, and learn to value the diversity each team member brings. Completing an assessment such as the DISC® Profile can help you to understand why you don’t like some of your staff, why they might not like you, and what you can do about it.
- Develop your emotional intelligence. Leaders who possess high emotional intelligence not only tend to be liked and respected, they also often go on to achieve greater success. Remember, as a manager, you can’t do it all on your own, so your success is no longer dependent on your own ability to get the job done right. You will need to be able to draw team members into active and enthusiastic participation, build team identity and commitment. And you won’t be able to achieve this without emotional intelligence. As your ability to recognise and respond to both subtle and extreme emotional situations increases, you become a more likable leader and get the best out of your team.
- Model the performance and behaviours you expect from your team, and coach them to adopt them as well. Demonstrating competence is one of the eight keys to developing trust and credibility with your team. Many managers are quite good at what they do, and often it’s the reason they get promoted to management in the first place. However, most don’t take the next step out of their comfort zone to begin coaching and developing others. By sharing your knowledge and experience with your team to develop their competencies, you will adopt one of the most underutilised leadership styles that get results. It is simple really: if you show you are committed to coaching and developing your team, they will see that you value them and their potential. This will help create a balanced, trusting environment where you are liked and respected by your team while also being able to set boundaries and provide constructive feedback.
#2 – Fear of change
To achieve different results, we must do things differently, and therefore we must change. There are many reasons change occurs, and why people fear change. When people resist change, it is for a reason. They normally perceive change as a threat. To face your fear of change, you will first have to ask yourself what exactly you are afraid of.
Are the changes out of your control? Do you fear the changes may not be the best thing for you and your team? Do you have a fantastic vision for change, but fear others will reject it or blame you when it fails? Are you simply happy with your routine, and don’t want to risk disrupting your comfort levels for a payoff down the track?
Whatever your reasons for fearing change, you will first need to some self-reflection to narrow down exactly why you are afraid. Only then can you start to put a plan in place to resolve your concerns one by one. It may be that you need to develop your knowledge to properly assess the risks involved with each change. Or maybe, you know exactly what you want to achieve but need to develop your change management skills and strategic leadership skills.
Maybe the change has been handed down from above and you just don’t like it. In this case, it might be time to work on your own resilience and stress management. As a manager, the way you manage your dislike of the change will affect everyone on your team. Sure, the change might create tension and there might be team members who passionately resist the change. But if you, as the manager, are able to show them it is possible to adapt and embrace the change, it could be the difference between some minor, temporary unrest and an escalating conflict that has the potential to tear apart your team or even taint your reputation as a leader.
There are many ways to develop your ability to cope with and lead change, and if this is a specific area you are facing challenges in, demystifying the process through change management training will give you a head start on alleviating your fears. However, if you are looking for some quick tips on how to effectively manage change, understanding Dr John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change is a great place to start:
Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change
The great news is that once you overcome your fear of change, it can have an exponential effect on your success as a leader. In fact, when you have the opportunity to manage minor change, you could see this as an opportunity to develop your change management skills. When the opportunity to challenge the status quo arises and you are able to become a change catalyst in your organisation, you will have already overcome your fears as well as gained valuable experience in managing change.
#3 – Fear of difficult conversations or situations
In the workplace, there are conversations we simply don’t want to have, and this includes giving feedback. Conversations such as telling a staff member that they are not performing at the required level or dealing with chronic lateness are tough to have, and they do need to be handled in the right way.
However, it is important to put your fear in perspective by reminding yourself that everyone needs performance improvement advice from time to time. Would you be where you are now if someone didn’t have a tough conversation with you at one point or another? It’s okay to ask for improvement and still be supportive, but if you ignore the issue because it is too hard to deal with, you’ll be doing both your employees, your organization and possibly even your own career, a disservice.
Do you see a pattern here? Once again, the real thing you should fear is not the difficult conversation itself, but what could happen if you put it off until it’s too late. You can have the discussion in a way that is respectful towards the employee, and that maintains (or even improves) your relationship with them.
A fearful unwillingness to develop feedback and performance management skills is one of the most common obstacles that prevents many managers from becoming great leaders. Once you accept that it is in your best interests to face your fear deliver the feedback, this is one instance in which the next step can’t be rushed.
Complete a performance and feedback discussion planning template such as this one before you even select the time, place and approach to delivering feedback for each employee. It is important that you not only prepare a script for the conversation, but also thoroughly investigate the how, when, who, where and what of the situation before starting the conversation. This will help you stay on track and be prepared to respond confidently if your employee has a strong emotional or unexpected reaction.
#4 – Fear of failure
To emerge from your comfort zone as a leader, it is essential to get your head around the fact that mistakes are not failures – they are opportunities to learn and develop.
As a manager, you have the choice to attribute your success and failure to things within your control, or to forces outside your control. Hence, one way to combat your fear of failure is to adopt the mindset that it is ok to accept responsibility for your mistakes (or failures, if you want to call them that), and even your team’s mistakes, without attaching them to your self-worth or attributing them to your own failure as a leader.
Mistakes are not failures, and making a choice to adjust your plan and shift your direction is also not failure. However, giving up on your ability to develop your potential is a decision to fail, and so is sitting idly by hoping things will just work themselves out. In fact, not making a choice is actually a choice. You’re basically allowing external factors to determine the end result for you.
If you have big dreams, another way to manage your fear of failure is to accomplish smaller wins by setting clear short-term and long-term goals. You don’t have to give up on that colossal long-term vision; It’s part of what makes you a courageous leader. However, your smaller, short term goals are essential to help you effectively break down, prioritise and delegate tasks. Provided those tasks are being completed, you don’t need to fear failure, as you are continually moving closer towards your goals, and therefore, makes you a success.
Work hard to get what you want and don’t let your fears get the better of you. There are some situations where you will get knocked over, but it’s the fact that you get back up again and never quit will set you apart as a leader. Trust yourself, be confident, don’t be afraid to invest in your own development, and you will conquer your fears. You will emerge as a leader that everyone wants to follow and not a manager stuck in their comfort zone.