Get Out Of Your Comfort To Be Safe
January 19, 2020
I thought I was in a great place. 3 consecutive years of consistent growth and delivering on my business objectives. My supervisor was very happy with the way I was managing my business. I was looking forward to my elevation as a MD.
The promotion never came. I was passed over. I was crestfallen. What made it worse, 2 of my closest colleagues who were also great friends made the cut. I don’t remember what made it worse , the fact that I did not get the break or that my friends got it ahead of me 🙂
In large organisations , promotions at senior levels are public affairs. The whole organisation watches the spectacle and this was a bigger cause of shame. Now everyone knew what a failure I was !!.
Deeply hurt and embarrassed I reached out to my supervisor.
“You have been rating me positively. You have also told me that I am doing well against my objectives. How could you not recommend me for the promotion.”
My boss was a straight shooter, who I trusted- “Results are not the only criteria. For you to get into a MD role, You need to become more visible, you need to develop gravitas, improve your leadership communication , Improve your executive presence and stature, you are not ready. You have to develop these skills”
Overnight, my world had turned upside down. At around the age of 38 , I was told that I needed to work on my executive presence, communication skills etc. How do I do that?
I had entered the room all indignant and ready to take it up with my boss. I was in denial.
When I came out of his room, I knew in my heart that the feedback he gave me was valid. I had got stuck into a comfort zone and I had stopped growing. All those instances where I let myself down flashed in my mind, vividly.
“The meetings with the global CEO- Why make myself visible to the CEO. What if I make a mistake- What if he asks questions I can’t answer satisfactorily? Better keep quiet and be safe”
” The 2 or 3 instances where stretch leadership assignments were up for grabs and I refused to put my hand up . Let me just focus on the comfort of delivering on my objectives”
” The business reviews where I had an opportunity to take on stretch objectives which I did not “
“That’s a new business, I don’t know whether it will work or not. My boss wants me to manage that. I don’t want to give up my current business I have built-I’ll pass”
There was no doubt I was playing small, thinking that I was comfortable and deceptively safe.
How badly mistaken I was. Paradoxically, the comfort zone was actually not a safe zone. I had equated comfort with safety. The shock of not getting promoted was a catalyst that spurred me get out of the slumber of comfort zone, to go out and do stuff I had never done before. I entered the Safe zone when I started stretching myself personally , learning new skills, taking on different assignments.
- I subdued my ego, joined Toastmasters to improve my presentation and communication skills.
- I overcame my natural diffidence to take up stretch assignments and invested time in making myself visible.
- I got into a learning mode. I sought mentors to guide in in matters like executive presence and gravitas.
It was a matter of time. I secured the promotion that eluded me earlier.
That experience taught me one of my most important life lessons- “That riskiest thing one can do is to play it safe”. I have learnt it the hard way. Everyone else does not have to!!