GET COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR DISCOMFORT
How comfortable do you feel right now in this Covid affected world? How well are you coping with the increased levels of uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility?
If you feel like you have both feet planted firmly in mid-air, you’re not alone. Discomfort is the prevailing sentiment for many leaders right now. Rather than suppress or avoid that discomfort, in this blog, I’ll encourage you to embrace it as a natural, normal and even essential part of life right now.
The good news is that anyone can learn to get comfortable with discomfort. The even better news is that you’ve done it many times before. Let’s explore this notion using a simple model that’s at least 50 years old and variously attributed to Abraham Maslow and Noel Burch; it’s called the learning ladder. The learning ladder has four steps and two dimensions; skill and consciousness.
Learning to drive
With anything that you’ve mastered in your life, you will have effectively gone through the four steps on the ladder. I’ll use the example of learning to drive a car, which most adults have mastered.
Level 1: Unconsciously Unskilled
When you’re a baby, dribbling in the back seat of your parent’s car, what do you know about driving? Nothing. Do you know you don’t know? No. You’re ‘unconsciously unskilled’; you don’t know what you don’t know. This is a polite way of saying that you’re blissfully ignorant.
Level 2: Consciously Unskilled
When you’re about 8 years old, which one of the two elements changes; your skill or your consciousness? Your consciousness. Now you know you don’t know how to drive; you’re ‘consciously unskilled’. At this level, you have progressed from ignorance to awareness, which is a very uncomfortable place to be.
Level 3: Consciously Skilled
When you’re 17 or 18 years old and you get lessons from a qualified instructor or a patient parent, what changes now? Your skill. When you correctly practice what you’ve been taught, avoiding other cars, telegraph poles and pedestrians, you can drive. You’re now ‘consciously skilled’.
Level 4: Unconsciously Skilled
What happens after you’ve been driving for 10, 15 or 20 years? Have you ever had the experience where one minute you’re in your office, and the next minute you’re at home, and you barely even remember getting in the car? At this level, driving is almost automatic because you’ve become ‘unconsciously skilled’. You have reached a level of mastery.
Leaning into discomfort
Ask yourself; at which levels do you spend the majority of your day? If you’re like most leaders, it’s at Level 4, which is pretty good, and at Level 1, which is not good at all. Mastery and ignorance are the natural diet of leaders; especially very senior ones. We like to feel comfortable, in control and on top of it all.
Now ask yourself; what’s needed to navigate through the uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility of a Covid world? You need new insights, new strategies and new skills. You need to learn, grow and innovate, which can only happen at Levels 2 and 3; awareness and practice.
Levels 2 and 3 are necessarily uncomfortable, just like when you were learning to drive. So, if you feel uncomfortable right now, that’s a really good thing. It means that you’ve moved beyond ignorance and have realized that your old ways of working are insufficient for the challenges that you face. Lean into that discomfort, embrace it like your best friend. It’s your surest path through the fog and the best thing you can model for those you lead.
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