The Best Way to Lead as a Manager: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Business Management & Strategy

Managing people is no easy task. It requires a good attitude, people skills and the ability to build trust throughout an organization.

Managers are tasked with the dichotomous responsibility of managing and leading. They must both negotiate the organization’s bottom line while fostering a healthy sustainable workforce. 

The key to this is front line management with high levels of self-awareness. Awareness creates room for developing the ability to understand and model the values of an organization.  If your managers are unaware of their impact, they may be doing more harm than good.

In fact, it's quite common.

At Helios, we see it occur with clients without them even realizing it. It's our job to help leaders and their front-line managers adjust to the needs of a changing marketplace in order to effectively lead and achieve real results.

Travis Bradberry notes in his article, 9 Things Managers do that Make Talented Employees Quit, that “the most talented employees seek to improve everything they touch. If you take away their ability to change and improve things because you’re only comfortable with the status quo, this…not only limits them, it limits you.” 

Here is some good news: managers who are used to the status quo can get out of their comfort zones and become more effective leaders.

What is the leadership comfort zone?

It dictates how we show up and how we present ourselves. Think of the comfort zone as an invisible, flexible perimeter people can push out, and pull in as needed to navigate work-life in order to feel comfortable and in control.  It’s a home base, implicitly guiding our explicit decisions.  It moves with us, constantly taking our internal temperature, sending us out or, holding us back.

A comfort zone is not always, but is often a sign of complacency wherein self- assessment and growth come to a halt. When managers fall in this pit, it limits their ability to grow. When this happens, the team suffers. 

A cultural norm can develop in which a component of productivity centers on maintaining the managers approval of their own ideas and ways of doing things. This sends the message that change is bad, and honest communication is implicitly discouraged.  When this happens it deprives everyone of the richness of experience and the openness needed to achieve true growth.

Be able (or learn how) to step outside your comfort zone

When the zone has grown too large, growth is smothered for the manager and anyone in their sphere of influence. When this happens, we surrender to human nature defaulting to what we know, and only that which we know.  When the proverbial manager tool-kit become smaller and outdated, a manager may unintentionally develop a false sense of omniscience to compensate when challenged.

Be accountable for your own growth

When we deliberately challenge ourselves we open internal doors to unlimited growth-professionally and personally.  Stepping into unknown zones requires an internal sense of bravery. It asks us to trust and to sit with uncertainty of challenge. We start this process by taking deliberate steps and intentional actions to define and deconstruct our comfort zone:

  1. Externalize your comfort zone. What are your habits; your go to responses and attitudes towards things and people? Are you leaning on those too much?
  2. Question your own motives. What is motivating you and how does that affect your decisions?
  3. Talk less and listen more. Find opportunities to listen. Everyone has something to say and if they are your employees, then you should be listening with open ears and an open mind. There is a reason why Undercover Boss was a popular TV show.
  4. Avoid judgment, just evaluate. Be your own consultant. Does what you say and do mirror each other? How are direct reports and other managers, including your own, responding to you?
  5. Evaluate and self-assess. How are you operating? How do you show up…to meetings, to your staff, to your leaders?
  6. Embrace learning. Herein lies the opportunity to learn. Learning is contagious because we tend to share what we know and that facilitates growth.  Webinars, seminars, books, and blogs are everywhere.  Take advantage of what’s out there and learn how you can do better, and be better.

Reigning in your comfort zone doesn’t require that you go skydiving; it does however ask you to understand how you negotiate the world. When you do this, you can challenge your comfort zone and pave the way to self-awareness.

The old adage is true: we are our own worst enemies. 

As such, the true challenge lies in developing new relationships, trying new ideas, or revisiting old ones you didn’t think would work, or didn’t work last time. One thing is for sure- there is no shortage of opportunity to step outside your comfort zone.