Leadership moments surround us every day. If you remain aware, you will find them. They hold importance because they enable us to make course changes that keep ourselves and others on the desired path. Recently, I experienced a particularly satisfying moment when speaking with my 13-year-old daughter during our drive to her softball practice for a team I coach.
“Dad, I want to tell you something. The truth is that the first couple of years I played softball, I liked playing in the games, but I didn’t like going to practice. I didn’t complain because you were the coach, you loved it, and I didn’t want to disappoint you. Now, I actually look forward to coming to practice, and games are my favorite things in the world.” I asked her what had changed. “I got good at it. It’s a lot more fun when you’re not learning the boring basics and you’re not screwing up all the time.”
That moment turned into a valuable short discussion with my daughter. It was valuable not only for her but also for me. I reflected on her revelation, and it confirmed a strong leadership belief of mine. We don’t like to struggle with new skills; rather, we find our strengths and comfort areas and tend to stay there. Either we can be pushed or lead the way into the resistance for our own good.
As leaders we need to know that the end result of short-term discomfort should prove worthwhile, even if those we lead cannot see it at the time. It is not as simple as constantly pushing people for more, however, as pushing too much may lead to burnout and resentment. How do we determine that balance between leaving people where they are happy and pushing them to develop and grow? How do we get those we lead to have the faith to leave their comfort zones and follow a new plan until their moment of revelation arrives?
I believe that the answer to both questions lies in knowing your people—really knowing them. This type of knowing comes from many conversations over time about family, hobbies, opinions, and, of course, work-related topics. It takes understanding family situations, backgrounds, desires, potential, personalities, and the organization to get that “gut feeling” about decisions. Those minutes we spend in small talk with those around us do not encompass wasted time, but necessary relationship building that allows others to trust us enough to keep going with the plan until they say, “I used to really dislike this….”
“As leaders we need to know that the end result of short-term discomfort should prove worthwhile, even if those we lead cannot see it at the time.”
Special Agent Cory McGookin, an instructor in the Law Enforcement Development Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.