The feet of a woman in side a circle of her comfort zone with an arrow pointing outside it to "success."

Managing the Discomforts of Leadership

by Jul 24, 2023Leadership

I’m often asked to work with smart but underperforming executives, whose justification is that taking certain actions would be uncomfortable. They also cite that they don’t want to cause anyone else discomfort (which they find discomforting).

Leadership is a role rife with opportunities for discomfort. It’s the price you pay for stepping up, for making decisions that others may not agree with and may go awry. 

As a leader, you are front and center. Success or failure may seem solely dependent on you (it’s not). Whether you lead a small team, a multinational corporation, or a nation; you will invariably face situations of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress. 

The uncertainty or stress becomes discomfort when we believe we would be judged (and judge ourselves) as losers if a situation does not work out as we intend. The higher the sense of risk, the greater the sense of discomfort.

Some Sources of Significant Stress for leaders

Heavy Decisions

The responsibility for making decisions that affect the lives and livelihoods of others is a significant source of stress for leaders. These decisions can range from making strategic choices for a company to addressing workplace conflicts or making hiring and firing decisions.

Such choices may have considerable repercussions, creating a sense of unease and pressure that can be difficult to navigate.

Seeing the results of such heavy decisions as reflecting on you personally will lead to heavy discomfort.

Remember that you are a part of a team. Share heavy decisions with your people, colleagues, or friends.

Isolation

Some leaders believe they must isolate themselves from their people. This isolation can exacerbate stress from the lack of support and camaraderie your team members could share with. We support just as your team members do. Use it.

Dealing with Emotions

We lead in an emotion-adverse society. We expect ourselves to maintain our composure in the face of adversity and pressure. The need to constantly portray a strong, confident front can prevent us from being honest about our feelings and seeking support. 

The price for bottled up emotions is burnout and mental health struggles. The more we resist and are uncomfortable we our own emotions, the more the emotions of others will also be a source of discomfort.

All discomfort involves fear of failure, of being a loser. The high expectations and visibility of leadership can breed such fear. 

When things go wrong, we often find ourselves in the spotlight, dealing with criticism from our teams and external stakeholders. Seeing such failure as a personal affront will turn the stress into discomfort.

What We Can Gain from Our Discomfort

Despite these challenges, there is value to be gained from our discomfort.

An Opportunity for Learning

Discomfort is always an opportunity to learn something to learn about ourselves. Our discomfort stems from perceiving a risk of being someone who isn’t a successful or a good person. The greater the risk perceived, the greater the discomfort.

This is our ego speaking. There are many circumstances where the possibility of failure causes no discomfort. We have not attached our sense of self-esteem to those situations.Discomfort offers us the opportunity to notice that we have attached our sense of self-esteem to something which has no bearing on our fundamental worthiness. Having so noticed, we can begin making different and conscious choices about how we define ourselves.

Confronting our fears and insecurities can enable us to improve and capitalize on our strengths. The increased self-awareness can also grow our emotional intelligence, improving interpersonal relationships and effective decision-making.

Building Resilience

Facing discomfort is an opportunity to build resilience, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. By navigating through challenging situations, we can build emotional strength, learn to adapt to change, and develop strategies to manage future adversity. 

Resilience enables us to thrive despite adversity, turning challenges into success.

Encouraging Innovation

Being aware of our discomfort and untying it from how we define ourselves makes it easier to meet stressful situations, freed of the risk of being a loser. This can lead to improved problem-solving skills and innovative solutions to problems. Able and willing to take consciously calculated risks, we can drive growth and success for ourselves, our teams, and our organizations.

Dealing effectively with discomfort is a necessity for all leaders. How we respond to our discomfort will shape our leadership journey.

While the difficulties of leadership are real and often challenging, those difficulties also can serve as catalysts for learning about ourselves, resilience, and innovation. By recognizing and embracing the dual nature of our discomforts, we can better navigate the complexities of leadership.

Discomfort happens to all of us. And it hasn’t killed anyone yet regardless of how unpleasant the feeling. Discomfort need never stop us getting to where we want to go, driving both our personal growth and the success of our teams or organizations.

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Dr. Michael F. Broom is an organization development psychologist who transforms organizations with his 45+ years of wisdom and expertise . Michael Broom smilingSpecializing in developing leaders, building teams, strategic planning, conflict resolution, and performance management, he emphasizes empowerment and excellence.

He is the author of The Infinite Organization and Power, The Infinite Game.

He is a recipient of the OD Network’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Contact Dr. Broom for a free hour of consultation at chumans.com or email him at michael@chumans.com. You’ll be surprised the difference a single hour can make!

Check out his immediately useful services and programs at CHumanS.com.