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The Effectiveness-Lab

Leaders are always out of their comfort zone – the answer

The bionically-balanced and smart organization operates in extreme environments where turbulence, short product, and service cycles, as well as unpredictability, are a given. CEO’s and other leaders are permanently out of their comfort zones. Those at the helm of organizations have only one choice: accepting the permanence of discomfort or quit.

CEO pressure is not only applicable to those working for the big corporates. The discomfort factor tends to be worse in much smaller firms. Even those working under substantive corporate CEO’s aren’t spared the discomfort of the leadership journey. Therefore, department heads are not safe from the CEO trials and tribulations – they are like mini-CEO’s

This blog explores the discomfort factor on leadership journeys and the answer to such a situation. Leaders may check all the quintessential leader boxes that we have discussed in this leadership OV series, but they still have to deal with the discomfort factor.

Even those who are the quintessence of leadership at the bionically-balanced entity can’t eliminate discomforting situations in their leadership journey. Individual leadership quintessence instead affects the efficacy of a leader’s interventions in cases of personal discomfort. Therefore, depending on how well they react to discomfort, even extremely good leaders may be brought to their knees by the discomfort factor. In certain instances, leaders get tired of such debilitating effects of leadership and walk away from the job

All leaders need to mitigate the consequences of spending too much time in discomforting spaces. A leader’s perception by others and ultimately their success boils down to how they deal with the discomfort factor. In today’s management lexicon, this has been referred to as the ‘ability to cope under pressure.’ But is it that simple? In our view, pressure is only a small and insignificant part of the discomfort factor

Pressure from where we stand is the sheer load or weight of one’s daily tasks. The discomfort factor is ironically much more ‘soft’ than ‘hard.’ Discomfort is not workload per se. It is the unpredictability of what challenge you will face next on your leadership journey, the invisible drivers of such problem, and the fact that you are dealing with issues that bring about unforeseen cause-and-effect scenarios. The latter appropriately situates the bionically-balanced and smart entity.

You may have lots of work and work pressure but still remain in your comfort zone – in other words, even when you throw at someone such load, they will deal with it pretty well. It may be that they are very organized, work late and that they remain productive all the time.

The above is different from discomfort in leadership – discomfort is about the velocities of the challenges a leader faces all the time, the frequency, and how uncertain they are. Discomfort is not always down to task load, but complexity, frequency, and the permanence

A perfect example of how discomforting leadership journeys can be is the renowned deal-maker Donald Trump current President of the United States of America. As you may imagine, the USA President will have all the support he needs to run his office – this support will come in many kinds: strategy papers – money – human resources, being ‘deputy-god,’ etc

Even the best have to deal with leadership discomfort Pic.:

However, even Donald Trump has accepted that he underestimated how difficult the job would be. Perhaps the President of the United States has realized, only 100 days into the job, that leading is more than being a deal maker, an anointed leader with specific biomarkers, etc. Leading involves having to deal with the unknowns by leaps and bounds.

Unknowns that become known, but allow you extremely short lead time to come up with appropriate answers; and at the same time, other unknowns shall appear on your radar.

Clearly, leadership is not like solving a mathematical problem – in that you go through a logical process, and however complex the problem may be, you will end with an answer of some sort. Some leadership problems don’t have answers at all, and others only have partial answers and that become irrelevant in short time spans

Case Study: Donald Trump and the leadership journey discomfort []:

“President Donald Trump, reflecting on a first 100 days in office that has featured no major legislative wins and low approval ratings, said Thursday he thought the job would be easier.

“I loved my previous life, I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump said in an interview with Reuters. “I actually, this is more work than my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

He later added, “I do miss my old life. This — I like to work. But this is actually more work.”
Trump also said he misses his pre-presidency freedom — a sentiment often expressed by Oval Office occupants who find themselves in the security bubble of the White House.

“And, while I had very little privacy, in my old life because, you know, I’ve been famous for a long time. I really — this is much less privacy than I’ve seen before. This is, you know, something that’s really amazing. At the same time, you’re really into your own cocoon because there’s such massive protection, that you really can’t go anywhere.””

Responding to the leadership journey discomfort:

  • Acceptance

When we choose to become leaders, we have to accept that in addition to the power and in some cases wealth that leadership bestows on us, leadership has dire consequences.

When we accept that leadership, for the most part, is about dealing with a constant flurry of mostly unforeseen activity, we tend to be calm and accepting when we suffer the consequences of leadership.

When someone chooses to become a professional boxer, they have to accept the consequences of such choice; i.e. taking blows to the head and other sensitive body parts. When someone chooses to become a Catholic priest, they have to accept a life of celibacy

Has President D. Trump accepted the consequences of choosing to become the President of the United States of America?

  • Keeping at it

Some people decide to go into leadership but underestimate how discomforting it can get. They only discover the dire consequences once on the job. However, leaders that have accepted the consequences of leadership like above will simply keep at it. The tenacity such leaders bring to their work is second to none. They will continue leading even when they are tired and would prefer to stop

  • Personal coping strategy

Leaders can accept to lead, facing all consequences head-on, plus keep at it. However, to blindly accept to lead and keep at it, leads one down the path of frustration and ultimately failure. Leaders need individual coping strategies to deal with the discomforts on the leadership journey.

Some leaders use their high levels of emotional intelligence to take whatever leadership throws at them and calmly work towards solutions. The high-energy type may throw tantrums to release the excess, and negative energy then gets back to solving the problem.  Other leaders may simply be good at diagnosis (and timely diagnosis at that) and once they are clear on the cause and effect of a particular challenge, pass it on to their teams to resolve.  And other leaders may visit the Sangoma for voodoo support

For those of you that want to excel at bionically-balanced and smart organizations, this blog is another tool in your leadership survival and success toolbox


4 responses to “Leaders are always out of their comfort zone – the answer”

  1. Much enjoyed Apollo. I may have mentioned it before but do you know Heifetz. Leadership with No Easy Answers. A must read for your thesis as you develop it I think. His concept of “the holding environment” is a good one and relevant to the above piece. Peter


    1. Thanks for reading the blog Peter and I will indeed check out the Heifetz piece

      Indeed leadership has no easy answers


    2. Hi Apollo, I am very much excited of your commitment to share important topics on your blog! i like the way you make it every week!

      A leader with a focus:
      “Some people decide to go into leadership but underestimate how discomforting it can get. They only discover the dire consequences once on the job. However, leaders that have accepted the consequences of leadership like above will simply keep at it. The tenacity such leaders bring to their work is second to none. They will continue leading even when they are tired and would prefer to stop”


      1. JN – thanks for reading the blog; I believe that you are that type of leader – not so?


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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