Change is a large part of growth. And that may ring even more true for leaders. In the last few years, there’s been an enormous amount of change in how we work, how we socialize, and how we live. But one thing has remained constant: leaders need to be at the forefront of change and in order to do that, they need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. But how? We tend to avoid putting ourselves in uncomfortable positions, but to this, Elaine Lin Hering, Managing Partner of Triad Consulting Group, a global leadership development firm founded out of the Harvard Negotiation Project, offers some advice.
“Leaders can get comfortable with being uncomfortable by knowing that discomfort is part of learning and leadership,” she says. “Knowing that being uncomfortable is part of life and leadership helps leaders stay the course when discomfort inevitably arises. Leaders should also examine why they are feeling uncomfortable. Does discomfort stem from the situation being new, hybrid work, the economy, and global turmoil, or because the leader doesn’t like not having answers or being in control?”
In order to better reflect, leaders, need to shift from a “know it all” mindset to being co-learners. “Leading doesn’t mean you get things right all the time; leadership means that you are honest with yourself and others about what works, and what’s not working, and continue working together to figure out a different way,” Elaine says. “Over time, the discomfort lessens because the discomfort becomes a natural and known part of leadership.”
It’s crucial that leaders follow this model as avoiding difficult conversations typically makes situations worse. Issues fester, problems intensify, and you miss the opportunity to clarify and course-correct. “Unfortunately, most issues in the workplace don’t resolve themselves by themselves, and having difficult conversations is the way to solve problems, build (or rebuild) trust, and get things done,” Elaine adds.
For example, in the summer of 2020 during the nationwide protests, that happened in response to the killing of George Floyd, many leaders had to listen, learn and have conversations about race, justice, policing, and politics in the workplace with their Black employees.
As a result, Elaine says this could have been the flame that encouraged professionals to take a new approach to leadership. “There have been plenty of reasons for leadership styles to evolve since the pandemic and social unrest of 2020, but not all leaders have adapted to the detriment of those they lead,” she says.
Elaine adds that there have been two key changes since then. One is that leaders have needed to figure out how to lead remote or hybrid teams. The reality is that communicating and building relationships remotely is not a skill set all leaders have, yet remote and hybrid work is the reality of the present and the future and requires intentionality that you can get away with not doing when people see you in person.
Second, George Floyd and the social unrest that followed revealed the systemic racism and inequity that always existed. Many leaders, particularly white leaders, have reason to reckon with their own internalized racism. Whether leaders choose to lead in a more inclusive way or to use the power they have to effect change on their teams and in organizations is slow work, and again, very intentional work.
But it can be done. It’s hard work but work that’s worth every difficult conversation or uncomfortable moment. “Being able to listen across differences and share what we’re really thinking and feeling presents an opportunity for people to discuss what really matters and what is at the heart of the problems we’re trying to solve,” Elaine says.
“Biases and systemic racism mean that open and honest communication isn’t always possible. Honest communication requires each of us to know what we are comfortable and able to share, what issues are worth each of us raising, where we want to lend our time and energy, and what situations we can live with.”
The Inclusive Future content on BlogHer is sponsored by Philip Morris International (PMI). BlogHer has independent editorial responsibility for the content. The views expressed by the authors and contributors may not represent the views of PMI except for those quotes directly attributed to PMI executives.