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You Can’t Lead in Your Comfort Zone

–Featuring Special Guest Contributor Ian Windle

Why Everyone Needs An Unreasonable Dream

My life is determined by a series of goals that I set on a regular basis. As I have gotten older, they have grown to be even harder and more stretching. Setting stretching goals every year has become a way of life for me. Why is this? Why do I thrive on stretching goals? In this article, I’ll explain why stretching goals are beneficial for me as well as all leaders.

Every year I set business, personal, health, and wellbeing goals. Some goals concern booking next year’s family holiday in the calendar, regular 1:1 date nights with my wife, or long weekends away, – others are more taxing like running a trail marathon or cycling from London to Paris in 24 hrs.

My business goals are equally stretching. After my first career in the Foreign Office, then 10 years running an international communication and change business, I started my own business. This was the biggest stretch of the lot. Combining my consulting, coaching, and leadership development work, I decided I wanted to become a professional Leadership Speaker, author, and podcaster. And then there was the TEDx talk, on this very subject. Now that was a stretch goal!

Stretching ourselves gives us energy and excitement. Once we stretch ourselves, new doors start to open up, doors we couldn’t see beforehand. As Audre Gide said, “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore.”

This simple model is helpful for explaining comfort, stretch, and stress zones.

Our comfort zone is somewhere we need to spend time in. It’s where we have downtime. We watch Netflix, have friends over for dinner, walk the dog, or read a nice book. It is a place to relax and recharge. However, if we spend too much time there it can get a bit boring. We can get complacent; we can start to feel that this is all we’re capable of. We all know people who are there. The more time we spend in our comfort zone the bigger it gets and the harder it gets to move out of it – we can all get stuck there.

When moving into our stretch zone and trying something new, we can’t be sure of the outcome. That’s the scary bit that stops some people from moving. If we’re managing a team, this is the time to show that we have people’s backs. We can and will ‘fail’ many times in our lives. As the great basketball player Michael Jordan said “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”. In other words, failure is not the opposite of success, it is part of success.

The stretch zone is where we learn and grow. Since it offers something new and different, there’s no way around it. We often have to learn a new skill, read more widely, prepare thoroughly and take advice and guidance from others in order to reach these stretch goals.

You’ll notice a third ring and that is our stress zone. This is right at the edge of stretch and we really don’t want to spend time here if we can help it. It is common to end up here when we haven’t prepared well to be in our stretch zone. Suppose I am doing a keynote talk in London to several hundred people (as I was doing recently on this very subject) and I hadn’t spent much time either in creating the presentation or rehearsing it. Then I’d be stressed, not only when I was on stage, but also in the lead-up, worrying about how it would go. Stress releases cortisol through our veins, which disrupts our immune system and literally makes us ill. Yet, stress can also come from being in our comfort zone for too long. Why? Because we start having thoughts like “is this it?” or “what have I done with my life?” These thoughts are also stressful!

The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Now, this is all fine and dandy, but what’s the destination? If I set off on a drive in my car and follow some nice roads, stop at some good cafes and restaurants, and stay in some great hotels I’ll get somewhere, but where? It may not be a place that I really want to be. I need to put a destination in my Sat Nav before I start.

It is the same with life. Where do we really want to end up? Try this. You’re 80 and sitting on a bench with your partner or best friend. You’re looking at a wonderful view and you’re discussing what you’ve achieved in your life. What do you want to say? What stories will you tell? Will they be stories that you’ve written yourself or will they have been written by other people? The question we must ask ourselves is Why would I stretch myself if there is no compelling destination?

I once asked one of my coaching clients what he was afraid of and he replied, “not reaching my full potential.” So, what does that look like for you? You need to think about what you’d like to say on that bench and make sure your dreams are unreasonable. If they are reasonable, you can do them now, thus they are certainly not dreams that will excite and energise you.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first democratically elected president of the African nation Liberia. She held the office for 12 years. One of her great quotes is “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them.” You see unless they are unreasonable you don’t have to stretch, learn, and grow and without doing that with your life you’ll remain in your comfort zone, getting bored and complacent (and possibly a little stressed)!

In summary here are the things that will support you to move outside your comfort zone and into your stretch zone:

  1. Create a personal vision or dream. This will give you the motivation to take the necessary steps along the path to get there. Write down what you want to say when you are sat on that bench looking at a lovely view. If 80 is too far away then make it 70 or 60. This is hard stuff to write, but don’t give up, it will be worth it.
  2. Consider what you will gain by stretching yourself. What did it feel like the last time you were stretched and went on to achieve something? Remember how you felt, both during and afterwards. The energy and excitement you felt during and the learning and growth that you felt afterwards can be persuasive in helping you go again.
  3. Break down the necessary steps required. When you write down the plan you need to make, the resources you’ll need, and the preparation required, it won’t seem such a stretch.
  4. Think about the outcome. If you prepare as best as you can and put everything you can into it, what is the likely outcome? You will see that there is way more to gain than to lose. The lessons you will learn from stretching yourself will be huge.
  5. Visualise achieving your stretch goal. What will it feel like to do it and succeed? Athletes use this technique all the time in motivating them to compete at the highest level.

Well, look back on your life. When have you felt totally fulfilled and completely energized?

There is one more vital question we need to all answer and that is what’s our purpose? Why are we here? This has to be the first question, before our unreasonable dream. Without being clear on our purpose we will just do stuff! The good news is that we have all been ‘on purpose’, just not all the time. What do I mean? Well, look back on your life. When have you felt totally fulfilled and completely energized? Think about those occasions. Maybe you were helping someone to make a decision that they found difficult, or you were providing a service and enjoyed the customers’ interaction, or you were being creative. Whatever it was write it down, and then consider how you can move that to the centre of your life. For me I realised in my twenties that I enjoyed presenting to people and helping them learn, then I realised I was fascinated by leadership and finally I realised I was a good listener and questioner. When I thought about these three areas it became clear over time that my purpose is to help leaders become the best they can be through coaching, training, and developing them. It is easier for those of us who grew up wanting to be a nurse or doctor or in the police. For some people, it feels like a destiny – something they were born to do. However, for most of us, we have to figure it out.

I use the Japanese Ikigai model to help people to discover their purpose as it’s a simple and neat way to figure it out. Ikigai means ‘a worthwhile life,’ ‘a reason to get out of your bed in the morning’ and ‘the happiness of always being busy.’

Ikigai starts with what you love. One of my nephews is a pilot and he has always wanted to be a pilot; he loves it. The next stage is: does the world need it? Yes, the world needs pilots. Thirdly: is he good at it? Yes, thankfully or he wouldn’t have a job! And finally: can he be paid for it, as he has a family, a mortgage, and a lifestyle he wants? Yes, he can and does.

Here are four steps to help you find your purpose:

  1. Note down when you have felt energised and fulfilled. What were you doing?
  2. Think about the feedback you’ve received, both formal and informal. What do others think you are good at?
  3. Now think about how you will get paid for this. What jobs exist or is it a new business idea that people will want to pay money for, or a charity or not-for-profit?

My Purpose is ‘Inspiring Leadership.’ I get out of bed in the morning to inspire people to be better leaders of themselves, their lives, and their businesses. I want people I work with to fulfil their potential, discover what they want, and have the vulnerability and courage to go for it.

If you want a life that is worthwhile, that you can tell amazing stories about when you’re 80 sitting on that bench, go and find your purpose, stretch yourself so that you bring more energy and fulfilment into your life, and achieve those unreasonable dreams!


Author Bio: Ian Windle is an award-winning Leadership Speaker, Executive Coach, and Team Excellence Builder. He is a TEDx speaker who regularly delivers keynotes both in the UK and internationally. He works with leadership teams on their strategy, vision, and values, as well as developing their capabilities to perform at their peak.

https://ianwindle.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ianlivechange
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ianwindle

Editor’s Note: This article is featured here courtesy of Practical Inspiration Publishing

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