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Most people don’t like to admit it, even if they know deep down that it’s true. Discomfort often leads to great things. And this translates to leadership too. In fact, leaders often grow the most during times of unease, as they’re forced into rethinking how things have been done. And this leads to innovation.

With a crisis like COVID-19, we can’t rely upon traditional strategies and tactics to create and distribute our products and services. We can’t rely upon traditional strategies and tactics for employee engagement or customer engagement either. Everything is different. People are physically unable to work where they used to work. We’ve been forced to find a new way of doing almost everything. While uncomfortable, adversity is a gift if your mindset is right. If you see adversity as a precursor to failure, then failure is likely. But if you see adversity as a gift to think about and do things differently, you’re often on a path to a breakthrough.

Every great story, performance, and achievement has a story of discomfort or adversity behind it. Why? Because while it may feel counterintuitive, discomfort becomes the motivator to perform at new, higher levels. As the well-known proverb tells us, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

When Disapproval Is a Good Thing

I have countless stories in which I lived through discomfort and came out on the other side better for it. For example, once a team at Root had been working with a client for about six months on their strategy. We had been working hard, collaborating with the top-level leaders day in and day out on the new plan. When we felt the strategy was ready, the client took it to their top 200 next-level leaders. We were expecting applause and accolades. Man, were we wrong. Nearly 80 percent of those leaders said they did not feel confident in the new strategy. Our team was very uncomfortable. After all, we had been paid to help the top leaders create this new strategy. It was not the result we had been anticipating.

So there we all were. What could we do? The only choice we had was to listen to the feedback. The senior team didn’t want to compromise. But we knew the opinions of the other leaders were valid and needed to be heard. So we worked in real time to draw a new Watercooler® sketch that showcased the challenges. And as we iterated, the insights and frustrations collided – and we had a real breakthrough. We could have never achieved that without the massive discomfort of having the 200 secondary leaders tell us the original strategy wasn’t up to par.

Discomfort + The Right Mindset = Innovation

With discomfort, your first reaction is embarrassment. People fear embarrassment more than anything! In fact, we spend most of our lives trying to please others. But once we realize that embarrassment isn’t the end of everything, we can see the opportunity that comes along with that discomfort – because we are forced to think in a new way and push ourselves to find a solution that we didn’t see initially. And that’s the path to a breakthrough. This is the reason why adversity is a gift, if your mindset is right.

September 9, 2020


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