Posted by: dstieglitz | December 19, 2013


“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and success, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

     Happy New Year.  At least I hope 2014 will be happy for you and your organization. What is your strategy to make it so? As 2014 begins, are you dealing with new challenges or advanced versions of the same ones you faced last January? Do tight budgets, intense competition, and new technologies still worry you, or have you adjusted your business model to embrace those realities? 2014’s challenges are likely to push you and your organization well beyond your comfort zone. You will feel pressured to change your services, products and business practices in order to survive.

Status Quo.  Status quo may have been a reasonable strategy in decades past, but it is a death spiral today. Companies that try to maintain status quo – Barnes & Noble and RIM/Blackberry, for example – quickly fall behind the ones who create change. Status-quo organizations react to changing markets and financial priorities by working harder under their old business model. On the other hand, growing companies include change in their business plan. No matter which you choose, the world around you will continue to change in 2014.

Comfort Zone vs. Learning Zone.  Everyone has a comfort zone – you, your people, and your customers. The zone expands over time as you face changes and embrace the lessons they deliver. The zone is comfortable because you know what to do – you’ve been there before. Minimal learning occurs in the comfort zone because status quo is the standard. When you change, you leave the comfort zone and enter the learning zone, a heightened state of awareness. Effective leaders operate in the learning zone to grow their organizations. Tip: Do two things this week that you’ve never done before and ask each of your people to do at least one thing that stretches their comfort zone

Leadership begins at the edge of the comfort zone.   Psychologists say that humans are more motivated to avoid pain than to seek pleasure. Therefore, to achieve success you must conquer the natural resistance to the part of change that is painful. The barriers to change are like electric fences that confine animals: to get where you want to go, you may have leap through the barrier and endure pain. Successful leaders don’t waste precious time trying to avoid the pain of change. Rather, they make change a habit in their organization and their personal routine. Make your people a bit uncomfortable with the results you ask them to achieve in 2014.

Embrace Doubts.  When you lead a change, people will expect you to be the expert even if you are not. At the start, the goal may lie beyond your people’s comfort zone and their enthusiasm may be diluted by doubts and fears. Your people expect you to understand their feelings, to tap into their highest potential, and to help them become a winning team. Encourage them to embrace their feelings and to understand that the team’s objective is bigger than any one person can accomplish. Your job as the leader is to get people to align and perform together at an optimal level.

Rapid Change Provides Opportunity.  One sure-fire strategy for success is to drive new ideas and positive change in your organization and your industry – invent the future. Interestingly, rapid change has a silver lining: new ideas can be tested at a cost and speed that were unimaginable in the Industrial Age. Days after introducing a new service or product on the Internet you will know if customers like it. The effects of process and technology changes on productivity can be measured almost as quickly. Innovations that once took months and millions of dollars to implement can be launched in hours for a few dollars. That makes innovation, the heart of change, inexpensive and efficient.

Take Action.  The only strategy that can succeed in an environment of increasingly unpredictable change is one that causes or adapts easily to market shifts. In today’s changing world, you don’t need more information to succeed, you need more action. Don’t wait for the perfect time or perfect plan. Now is the time to respond to the changes you are seeing. Take a small action and follow it with another. The new action may not work well at first, but don’t waste time looking for the ideal solution because by the time you find it the world will have changed again. Push your people into the uncomfortable learning zone and coach them to success.


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