Principle #28: Confront the elephant in the room and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Soundscape: Wake Up by John Legend and the Roots
There is an elephant in the room and it needs to be acknowledged. We tend to ignore things that make us uncomfortable. There are conversations with friends, family, and coworkers that need to be had. But for some reason, we avoid it over and over. This week I read the article “Why Feeling Uncomfortable is the Key to Success” in Forbes. Getting out of your comfort zone is one of the best things you can do. We must confront reality order to move beyond our current state. Avoiding those tough conversations doesn’t help anyone and becomes a toxic elixir making people feel good about the status quo. Compliments and encouragement are important, but they work in tandem with the courageous conversations that help organizations get their priorities in order. Data speaks for itself. Our job is to listen, regroup, and strategize next steps. Exceptional teams get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. The discomfort comes from letting go of all of the excuses, all of the glory of past successes and embracing the urgency of now. If everyone around you is comfortable with the status quo and pockets of mediocrity are becoming part of your culture, then it is time to reevaluate your impact on your surroundings. Great teams challenge one another to be better. They offer solutions to persistent problems, then revisit the issue to assess whether the proposed solution worked.
Look past the obstacles and see where you want to be. A few years ago I led a professional development for teachers about the power of visualization. I found that so many teachers are in a state of perpetual negative self-talk that they undermine their own impact as teachers because of the negative scripts that run in their minds. Rewiring your thought process and actually visualizing your own power is how we harness our inherent greatness. The way we are inclined to think about problems is to find the one cause. Who is the protagonist and who will play the antagonist? That’s how novels and movies work. But in schools and companies, there are multiple forces at play that drive down earning or drive up student achievement. It is extremely rare to find simple solutions to complex problems. We have to get out the mindset of looking for the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Are we really ready to step out of our comfort zone to be peak performers in our professional lives? High performance teams are always rethinking the way they do business and challenging themselves to outperform the competition. They resist the blame game and focus on what “we” can do differently as opposed to pointing fingers at “who” caused a decline in performance.
It starts with our own self-talk. If we aren’t willing to be honest with ourselves about where we need to improve, then it is unlikely that we will (a) challenge others to do better, or (b) receive feedback in a way that makes us grow. I’ve seen it every year in my journey as an educator. A parent receives a report from a teacher about student performance or behavior and the parent either supports the educator or makes an excuse for the child. The support or lack thereof will determine if the child will improve or continue to make the same poor choices. Why do we make excuses when confronted with difficult realities? I believe those excuses are our way of averting any change in our own behaviors. They are our way of negating our own self-efficacy over our own reality.
This concept of self-efficacy is so important if we are to be successful in any endeavor. It is the secret ingredient for peak performance. We must believe that we can have an impact on our reality and that we can be successful in the work we have undertaken. It is the belief that is behind our words and actions. Those who lack self-efficacy always point out the scapegoats that undermined their successes. If I had more supplies…If I had more technology… If the parents would… If the district would… Those who possess self-efficacy approach those same challenges with a different mindset: Regardless of… In spite of…. Even though… We can… They always seek out ways to improve their work or the work of their team to effect change with what’s in their hands.
I’ve already lost the war if my impact as a leader is at the mercy of my circumstances, my community, my school’s demographics, and my desire to remain comfortable. Own this moment. Mental toughness means that we get comfortable with being uncomfortable.