Creating Discomfort Zones

So many modern leaders have gotten things all wrong. They have turned the team’s “well-being” into their primary objective, confusing comfort for success. However, the purpose of all modern perks in the tech industry should be to make everything other than the actual work comfortable, precisely so that your people can exert themselves where it counts. You’re doing it wrong if you’re not regularly talking about tough issues. Are you shifting in your seat uncomfortably? Good.

Walking on Eggshells

It’s become so common that I sometimes fail to notice it. When I talk to someone, their entire mindset around issues in their organization revolves around not rocking the boat. Either because they want to remain “friends” with their teams or due to a fear of conflict, managers sometimes completely block any possibility of handling things in a sincere, candid, and concise manner. Instead, they try to do everything in a manner that cultivates “safety.”

That’s how we get modes of operation that seem like they’re based on the royal family’s PR playbook. Discussions must be carefully choreographed to avoid any sore issues. With minimal feedback, leaders let people continue for too long in their wrong ways because they “want the change to come from the employees.” Or, I see underperforming people allowed to continue for too long and shoot down different possibilities to address things, like getting coaching, because leaders are afraid of “demanding it.”

Leadership Negligence

These practices eventually tend to lead to a single path, which is the way out. People who are underperforming but who could’ve improved are neglected for too long until the company is faced with making a tough decision. This is partly why many recent layoff rounds were bigger than they could’ve been.

Indeed, you don’t want to hurt anyone or become one of those caricature sitcom bosses. Nevertheless, letting that fear guide you too far results in a complete lack of leadership and people who rarely grow and evolve as much as they could have. You’ve heard it a million times: no pain, no gain. Teams that never face the harsh truth will continue walking around with the proverbial spinach in their teeth until it leads to dental issues.

Embracing Discomfort

While some leaders require coaching to make this transition, many can make progress on their own. Here are a few tactics I’ve used in the past. Pick one and start growing as a leader and helping your team succeed:

  • Say things. Don’t shy away from letting people know the truth. That’s not a license to be a jerk, though.
  • Let others speak up. Instead of trying to keep things bottled up, cultivate a culture that handles issues.
  • Have standards and expectations. Letting people know they need to up their game is perfectly reasonable.
  • Find a situation where you let things get to the point of no return. Surely, there are some. Now consider whether there are other similar ones in the making. Stop them.
  • Talk to the team about healthy friction. If things never feel uncomfortable or challenging, you’re going downhill.
  • Set regular and timely growth goals with each employee, as explained in The Tech Executive Operating System.

Happy growing.