October 18, 2017

The trap of structure

Fork in a pathIf you already have the structure of something—a task, a project, an issue…

…it might not be the thing you most need to do. Maybe you should hand it off, or be done with it altogether.

We like when we know where we are and where we’re going; when we are clear on the structure we need. We can act on that.

We don’t like when we don’t know where we are or where we are going; when we don’t have a map. We feel uncertain and hesitant.

And so we tend to focus on those things where we have structure, but they may be the very things we should be moving on from in order to grow and develop.

Structure is great. Structure is comfortable. Structure might be a trap.

Should you be moving on from the structured to the unstructured? Should you be in uncharted territory?

New language: Friend or foe?

Informal meetingWe’re at a gathering of professionals…

Some present find some of the language challenging. It doesn’t fit with their culture. They would like some of the words to be changed. They want met at their map of the world… Make what you’re saying fit our understanding, thank you very much.

You can’t help feeling though that the value would then be lost, or at least diluted. Comfort zones would be left safely intact.

Now we’re not talking here about words that would be widely regarded as offensive. No, it’s a more subtle objection to vocabulary that reflects different values and beliefs; words which reflect a different culture, a slightly different take on an area of professional work.

It becomes rather obvious…

Limit the language and you limit the conversation.

Open up to different words and you gain new learning.

Too comfortable?

Executives listening to a presentationTo what extent should leaders expect to feel uncomfortable—a little of the time, a lot of the time, or somewhere in the middle?

Sometimes people in leadership positions comment that such and such made them uncomfortable. Something they experienced didn’t fit with their unconsciously held map of the world. They know this because they had an emotional reaction to what happened—their “stomach turned” so to speak, even if only a little.

But here’s the thing…

As leaders, should we welcome such experiences as broadening our map of the world? Do they show us we might have missed something or have something new to learn?

If we’re venturing into the unknown—and surely as leaders, that’s our job at least some of the time—then a bit of discomfort is to be expected, even welcomed as a sign we’re making progress. Going first is often uncomfortable.

Comfort might be a sign of danger rather than a sign of safety.

How uncomfortable is comfortable for you (or, how comfortable is uncomfortable)?

Knowing skills or living them?

Three people walkingThey know the skills we talked about—the ones we practised at the workshop. They reassured themselves about that. They’re quite safe. No cause for concern. No need to change. No need to leave their comfort zone. All is well.

Or is it?

There’s a difference between knowing about something and living it. When it comes to relating to other people, it’s how we live that makes the difference, not what we know—just like most things.

You know that.

We need to walk the talk when it’s hard as well as when it’s easy. That’s what it takes, and when it makes the most difference.

Sometimes we forget to live what we know. I know I do. People have been quoting bits of my book at me lately—makes me feel stupid and proud at the same time, as well as just embarrassed. Turns out the book I most need to read right now is my own. Seriously. Isn’t that funny?

What about you?

How do you stay authentic as much as you can, and make sure you walk your talk with other people?

Are you stuck in other people’s comfort zones?

To grow, we need to step out of our comfort zone; to accept we don’t know everything; to take a risk.

We’re familiar with that.

But had it occurred to you that sometimes we may hold back because our actions, or intended actions are a frightening thought for someone else? We may be influenced by their fears, even if they’re not involved at all and have quite a different context from us and so a different view of the risks. Our conversation with them is enough for them to express their fears; fears they would have if they were taking the action. If we’re not careful, we moderate what we do to fit their comfort zone.

Make sure it’s your own comfort and discomfort that’s guiding you and not the fears of the uninvolved.