Great leaders are great learners.
And the best learning opportunity is outside your comfort zone. Which means sometimes you just need to get uncomfortable.
A few years ago I had a great learning ‘opportunity’.
I was approached to do one of my first paid professional speaking events and I was super excited. It was for a major organization for their annual sales and marketing leadership conference. I was happy with the brief and I was happy with the timing and so I agreed to do it.
Now, three weeks out from the event I was approached to change the timing of my session from early in the day to later in the day, which I agreed to.
One week from the event the brief changed, the topic changed. I also agreed to that.
Then the day before, I was asked to move my talk back from the late afternoon to after cocktails. I wasn’t overly comfortable but I agreed because this was a really key client for me.
Then at the event a few things happened. Most of them had to do with the fact that all those 120 delegates were away from home. They were there to have a good time. They had had a long day in a workshop and now it was time for cocktails and so they started drinking.
The event was also running behind schedule and so ultimately I got to speak at 10 PM that night. As you can imagine, the front few tables were full of drunken hecklers…sort of like the backseat of the school bus…only worse. There were some people that I’m pretty sure were already asleep at the back of the room and others who just wanted to party.
Let me tell you, it was a tough, tough gig, excruciating even.
Now, later that night I was struggling to sleep. I was so disappointed with what had happened, Although, I knew I had given my best it was a very challenging situation and I was very aware that I had to face up to breakfast with my client in the morning. As you can imagine, I was pretty anxious.
The next morning, I had just said good morning to my client and I was settling in to receive his feedback when one of the delegates came up to me and said, “Stacey, I just had to say how much I loved your talk last night. How much I took away from it. I’ve already been in contact with my assistant this morning. We’ve set up some times that I can take my team through some of the concepts that you talked about, and we can create an action plan. It was absolutely inspiring.’ Whew…big sigh of relief !
That was a learning moment for me because I had thought that my session was …well ‘ a disaster’, and I’d felt incredibly uncomfortable at the time, and yet the message still got through.
That is really important to me … for one person to walk away and be taking action, that’s a success. I learned a lot of other things of course, about how to manage my clients, what to agree to and what not to agree to. It was definitely a learning experience…and horribly uncomfortable. And now as a speaker I’m much clearer about what I’m capable of and I also know I can handle just about anything when I’m speaking at an event.
When we don’t get uncomfortable we stay inside our comfort zone. In our comfort zone we just do the same old stuff. That doesn’t prepare us for new leadership challenges. It doesn’t prepare us to lead different people or situations.
If you don’t get into the stretch zone it’s a bit like … for those of you who play sport, just running out onto a field, I’ll call it a soccer field, without having done any training or skills development. It’s really hard to keep up with the game and it can hurt to try.
As a leader you need to have your own game preparation. You need to improve your skills. You need to stretch and grow yourself so your leadership can grow.
What do you need so you’re equipped to reach for your leadership goals? Where’s your stretch? How uncomfortable are you prepared to be?
Love to know your thoughts.