I kept trying to think of appropriate titles for this post: Leading through Discomfort; Dealing with Disruption; and Leadership and Disruption. Nothing fit. I finally settled on Leading and Discomfort because, regardless of the fact that we are living through a pandemic, that in itself is not the discomfort (it is but it isn’t). The truth is that leading in general causes discomfort. Keeping up with staff members, advocating for others, working on your own development, keeping up with non-work related responsibilities, and getting up every day to be better than you were the day before is all discomforting. I never looked at the definition of discomfort, but I’ve always known how to use it. I know what discomfort feels like, and many of you do as well. However, just for clarity, discomfort is:
To make (someone) feel uneasy, anxious, or embarrassed.
I’m going to add another sentence to it: to be in a situation that makes one feel uneasy, anxious, or embarrassed. Is that not leadership? After actually reading the definition, I realized that those words have described almost every day of leading. Whether it is at work, at home directing my family, in the community taking on new projects, or anything else, leading is all about moving forward in discomfort. So how do you do that? I definitely don’t have a magic answer for this, but I can look back on my own experiences and the advice of others and come up with some ideas. So, in the year of all around discomfort, here we go:
- Stop fighting the change. Change is going to happen whether we’re kicking and screaming or moving along peacefully. In order to lead, we have to stop fighting change and quickly accept that it is happening. There’s no out. Refusing to do so will make it incredibly difficult to help those around you and move the vision along.
- Be honest with yourself about your own feelings. Not to sound too ‘touchy feely’, but how in the world can one properly guide others day by day and be relatable without recognizing their own feelings? Whether it’s a policy change, a new hire, downsizing, etc., part of being a leader is being able to empathize with others. If you don’t recognize your own feelings, you won’t be able to appropriately respond to those of others.
- Recognize fear, but don’t stop because of it. A huge part of leading is moving forward. Progress can’t be made if you remain stagnant. However, many believe that moving forward means not being fearful. That is a myth and we all need to stop thinking that. Moving forward means walking beside fear and knocking down walls together. Each fearful obstacle that you overcome makes you that much stronger and soon you’ll learn that fear is not a barrier, but simply a feeling to acknowledge, assess, and then move with.
- Get a support system around you. Normally when I mention this, people automatically think of those either in their positions or those who have been in their position. That’s all well and good, but my suggestion of people to throw into the mix are some of your own team members. Let’s be real about one thing: you weren’t chosen to lead because you had all of the strengths and experiences needed for your position. You were chosen because you had enough of the strengths and experience to guide and motivate others. Do you know what that means? That means that you also have some serious weaknesses, and some of your teammates possess qualities and strengths that you don’t have. How wonderful would it be to come together as a group, using each other’s strengths, and become a powerhouse? Your teammates will learn from you and you from them. And, in times of extreme discomfort, you can all support each other without saying a word.
- Read about the trials of others. So this is an interesting one, but bear with me. I have never read more books about people going through hard times than when I began taking on more leadership positions. There is something encouraging and eerily comforting about reading of others who have gone through difficulties and overcome them time and time again. I learn new lessons and get a reminder that I can handle what’s in front of me. Now, if you’re not into those kinds of nonfiction books, that’s okay. However, read about other people in general. Learning their stories will offer you insight that you’ll be able to use to your advantage.
- Have a hobby. This is a lesson I learned by observing people with A LOT of responsibilities on their plates. It could have been painting, woodworking, reading, playing instruments, gardening, biking, etc., but I noticed that having a hobby, something that allows you to escape (in a healthy way) was key to taking on the world day by day. You don’t have to indulge in your hobby every day, and you might not have time to; but having something that is solely yours on a regular basis helps one move through discomfort.
However you lead, guide, and motivate others, be sure not to get into the trap of thinking that discomfort should not be part of the equation. Discomfort is honestly the way many of us become better over time.
Keep leading and stay safe,