COACHable/ Engaging Your Discomfort

Photo Larm Rmah on Unsplash

Photo Larm Rmah on Unsplash


Manila, 30 May 2018 — How the Three Fs can hold you back or bring you closer to your goals.

Once a leadership training or coaching session is well underway, with all the challenges that it involves, I put the word discomfort on the table. Most leaders are already familiar with the idea that stepping out of your comfort zone will give you a more valuable learning experience.

It is outside your comfort zone that your deepest learning takes place—letting you experience transformation. Yet there is a difference between talking about your comfort zone and actually engaging with discomfort. To make the latter possible, a sense of discomfort needs to be triggered first, so that it arises mindfully in your awareness.

What can your discomfort be about? In my experience working with leaders, it might be triggered by what I call The Three Fs: feedback, failure, and fear. What can you do about them? Let's unpack them one by one.

Embracing Feedback

Asking and receiving feedback is essential for leaders to grow. This is not an easy thing to do. As humans, we find ourselves having a sensitivity to being accepted and found adequate by others.  Moreover, feedback is often given a negative association.

For many people, feedback means telling or hearing about where you need to improve. We are used to this from a young age when parents would study our school report with a quick focus on how to improve in the subjects with low marks. 

Leaders who have already learned how to give feedback in a productive way will know that it works best when you begin with one or two areas of acknowledgment of what went well. And actually, you can often steer the direction in which feedback is given by asking the right questions.

Even so, it is likely that you will sometimes receive unexpected feedback that can feel like a slap in your face. So what to do?

I suggest that you make a conscious decision to embrace feedback as if it is your dear friend, regardless of in what form it comes. Thank the person who gave you the feedback, reflect on the message to learn from it, and keep asking for more feedback next time.

Welcoming Failure

The fear of failure is another anxiety that none of us can escape. And failure, definitely, is a companion of leaders who dare to influence positive changes. What matters is how we engage with the discomfort that it brings.

Sometimes you Win and Sometimes you Fail is the title of a book by John Maxwell, a leadership guru. Except that he crossed out the word Fail on the cover and replaced it with Learn

A famous army leader once remarked that what matters is not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up. 

If we do not experience a fear of failure regularly, it is probably because we don't challenge ourselves enough. Once you feel it, you know that you are out of your comfort zone, and that is where leaders keep growing to their potential.

So go ahead and welcome failure when it comes, learn your lessons, and move forward with more knowledge and celebrate that you are richer for the experience. 

Confronting Fear

Fears are an integral part of our human experience. Your brain works hard to keep you out of danger, yet often ends up overdoing it. And as you decide to step out of your comfort zone on your leadership journey, you may experience fears more acutely.

One of the most pervasive fears is to be found out by others for not being good enough. You know the feeling? We are reminded frequently of that possibility by our very own saboteur voice in our head.

A good approach to dealing with your fears is to confront them deliberately, by recognizing them as areas where you need to develop further, where your soul still has lessons to learn. 

So, instead of running from your fears or letting them paralyze you into inaction, procrastination and feeling miserable, confront your fears and work on yourself so that they can transform into lessons for change and inspirations for your leadership.  

Summing up, how do you engage with your Three Fs of feedback, failure, and fear? Are they holding you back from your leadership goals, or will you allow them to bring you closer to where you want to go? I look forward to hearing and learning from your experiences.

I was uncomfortable all day, and it was alright.
— Leadership training participant in Seoul