Yes, the Christmas carol wishes you “tidings of comfort and joy.” But in leadership, seldom do those two emotional states correlate. That’s because leadership requires that you continually function outside of your comfort zone. In fact, leaders must monitor themselves regularly to ensure that they have not slipped back into the cozy habit of doing their job in ways that are easy and familiar. What are the perils of comfort?
You do things you should not be doing – and can’t get to more strategic work. It can seem simpler to just do things yourself, even parts of your job that could and should be done by others. The easy road is to tell yourself you’ll get around to delegating later, when things settle down. Truth is, they won’t settle down, so ditch the comfort of your routine and force yourself to stop doing what others can. It may require you to learn a whole new skill set around when and how to delegate and hold people accountable. The end result is that you and your direct reports will become better performers.
You avoid uncomfortable emotions and performance suffers. Don’t like conflict, unhappiness or other “negative” emotions? Your coping strategies (avoidance, giving in to keep the peace, etc.) don’t serve the organization well. Conflict can actually be a good thing; when there’s high commitment, diverse ideas and productive discussion, better solutions are generated. If you want people to be happy and harmonious all the time, you’ll make choices that ensure harmony, rather than decisions that are right for the organization. Instead of expecting people to stop getting emotional, figure out why it’s happening and why it bugs you so much.
Your need for comfort takes precedence over what’s right, and can even lead to immoral choices. Not you? Well, a recent study showed that most people will do the wrong thing if it’s easier. People were more likely to cheat or avoid being altruistic if the computer program made it easier than the more noble alternative- like just clicking the Continue button. If you are all about your own comfort, you will be more likely to passively take care of your own needs over those of others. You might choose to ignore a customer need if it’s something that would be difficult for you to do, or if it might put you in a bad light. Sure, you’ll justify it (“they are just being difficult”), and life will go on. The question is, are you making the choice that promotes the greater good or the one that is most convenient for you?
You sacrifice long-term gain for short-term comfort.The need for safety and comfort is pretty low on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Focusing energy on maintaining your own contentment means that this energy isn’t available for other priorities – like leading edge innovation or creative problem solving. You short-change yourself, your people and your organization by allowing your own contentment to come first.
Still think you don’t prioritize your own comfort? Ask a trusted colleague about the ways in which you stay in your comfort zone. As difficult as it may be to hear the answer, remember the words of C.S. Lewis: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”
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