Stepping up with your strengths – or stuck in your comfort zone?

Sometimes we can hold ourselves back without even realising it. We’re working hard, taking focused time to get stuff done, doing what we’re good at – playing to our strengths. But there’s the potential rub: we may be staying stuck in our comfort zone when we could be stepping up. Questions about this often come up in Zoomly’s workshops for leadership development. Getting beyond the comfort zone is a test that successful leaders get through. Strengths can hold the key.

Getting out of your comfort zone isn’t about focusing on overcoming weaknesses. Yes, they need to be dealt with, but often the biggest threat to performance is overplaying a strength*. Nor is it about throwing people in the deep end to ‘see if they can swim’ – setting high expectations but not providing support. That can result in panic and ultimately, overwhelm that leads to burnout.

Getting out of your comfort zone is about finding a positive stretch, by applying your strengths in new situations. You’re feeling stimulated rather than shoved over the edge; you’re practising and learning rather than being paralysed by fear. You’re stretching beyond your comfort zone to meet new challenges. Athletes and performers who succeed constantly get into the stretch zone.

How can you achieve this?

Look at where your time’s been going at work – what tasks and activities have taken up most of your time? How much of that time has been spent on work that now comes so easily to you it’s comfortable? How has that benefitted you so far? What are the risks in continuing to do this? How can you simplify and/or share some of that comfort zone work?

Next, identify new tasks and activities you can take on that will provide a positive stretch. It may simply be a new task that your manager currently does, but think broadly: is there a project, an assignment in another team that will enable you to use your strengths in new ways? How might you train others in your areas of strength?

Consider what support you will need to ensure you progress safely. Will you need to learn new skills, gain experience in a new discipline/department, work with a coach or mentor? How can colleagues and stakeholders help?


*You may find this post useful: ‘Can strengths be a performance risk?’


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’

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