By: Sharon R. Egilinsky
“Yes, I know it is uncomfortable, but this is when change is made, this is how you get stronger,” shouts Natalie Cohen-Gould our master Flywheel instructor from the podium early in the morning. “If you’re comfortable I suggest you get out of that zone and push a little harder”, she cries from her instructor roost. Enthusiastically following our leader, we embrace the discomfort, take the risk, work through the resistance. Then bang, through the combination of our individual efforts, we make it happen as a team, getting great scores and feeling exhilarated. All of this accomplished first thing in the morning. Game-changing leadership from our high-performance focused coach and we are ready for the challenges of our business day.
As I often credit the athlete’s mindset with lessons applicable to competing in business, I ask: can we do more to cultivate that strength-building approach in our businesses and in our boardrooms?
Effective leadership and smart corporate governance have long been key ingredients to a vibrant business environment. What has changed, or in some cases still needs to change, is the emphasis on the kind of DNA it takes to lead, grow and sustain progress. I think it also goes even deeper as to what our leaders should expect from their management teams in what has become our, neither good nor bad, normal – an unpredictable economic and regulatory environment.
Leave it to some of the bravest and most strategic champions we know - The Navy Seals – to educate us on powering up. The gist of the Seals mantra is that it is a very good thing to feel uncomfortable because it means you are moving forward. Their mindset has spread from the frontline to the playing field and beyond. With that said, why is it still so difficult to execute on building this kind of strength in our offices and boardrooms? Why can’t we get more comfortable being uncomfortable instead of maintaining the status quo or playing defense?
While filling leadership roles with subject matter experts, or occasionally adding a diverse director to the roster is sometimes enough; it often serves as simply embracing the status quo. For growth to be both viable and sustainable we need to identify those leaders who not only have the requisite expertise but the intellectual and mental capacity to proactively push through the challenges, motivating and encouraging others to do the same. This is an important step in making our businesses and our boardrooms even stronger.
Think about how in professional sports, benchmarking for both individual, and team-performance is an everyday occurrence. Each time a player steps on the field, the ice, or the court, they do so knowing that there is always the risk they will be cut, demoted or even let go from the team. Regardless of injury, physical and mental capacity, or even their stellar accomplishments the day before, the mindset is to push through and excel. While more difficult, and arguably not exactly appropriate to measure business results with such frequency, how do we measure what other factors it takes to get strong in successfully building a growing a business?
Consider the following:
· While the only outcomes that ultimately matter to shareholders and investors are results, the equation for sustaining results is not linear. When on the bike, generally a certain torque (resistance) combined with a certain RPM will get me a good score and tough workout. On any given day if one or more of my prime conditions are off, I will absolutely have to work harder with a different approach to perform. Knowing the importance of working through discomfort, when I hear a client or colleague boasting “we are ready when conditions normalize” or when “the environment stabilizes” I almost always ask “what if that never happens?”. Maybe we have been for too long focusing our leadership expectations on performing only when under okay conditions. I am not diminishing the importance of being readily positioned for when the right time comes; however, creating alternative and innovative paths to get results has got to be a part of our DNA if a business is to advance, and moreover, differentiate itself.
· What used to be disruptive or challenging may not be just for the Shark Tank or the entrepreneur anymore. I suggest that management and their teams should be expected to include those who not only embrace but thrive on the uncomfortable. We need more leaders who consistently challenge the business model muscle and look for opportunities in less than sub-optimal situations rather than play defense or accept the status quo. I know I am in good company in believing that great leaders have some responsibility to encourage and develop the mental toughness of their teams as well as continue to hone in on their own. The same can be said for the standards to which boards can hold themselves and their management as this approach supports a moving forward environment. Some of the most incredible moments in my career have been while working closely with my team during a crisis or when given a challenge that seemed to be unachievable. It is that kind of culture, or maybe call it DNA, that leads to innovation, opportunity and having one of your greatest assets be your people.
Whether you turn up the torque, find ways to push past the status quo or shake up your team with a challenge that inspires them to think big and different - how much more un can you get with comfortable?
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