Jocko Willink, Navy Seal Retired

Danger in the Comfort Zone

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Pushed Out of the Comfort Zone:

Lately, I’ve observed a lot of folks being dragged out of their comfort zones. Some are finding a huge change in our political environment to be unsettling. And some are perplexed over the many issues around perceived changes in our social values. A great deal of discomfort is due to the disruption coming (and for some, the disruption already here) at the intersection of technology and manufacturing.

Our success makes us comfortable with the way we have done things, and that comfort is what undermines us.
— Sandy Shugart

I had the pleasure of hearing a presentation on Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willinks. The story of his experience with Seal Team Three was fascinating. I found myself making note

Jocko Willink, Navy Seal Retired

that these leaders seemed to never have relief from constant change. That might be the best thing for us too. Constant change. No chance to rest on our laurels.

Leadership and Comfort

I am fond of pointing out that my task as an Executive Coach is to “comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” That is to say, we need to make the invisible (head in the sand) visible. We need to name the issue and work to find an acceptable solution. The afflicting part comes in when we create the needed disruption to move our organization forward. And we must take care of those who believe that the change is not in their personal best interest. That’s the “giving comfort” part of the process.

In their excellent book on leadership, Jocko Willink (Navy Seal, Ret. Commander Seal Team Three) and Leif Babin (Navy Seal Retired, Member Seal Team Three) discuss their experiences as Navy Seals and how their lessons might apply to you as a leader and to your organization. Their book, Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win, leads me to believe that there is very little or no comfort zone for these leaders. They are constantly challenging each other to grow and respond to external changes to their plans. That is exactly what we need in today’s fast paced business (and personal) environment.

Organizational Change

Change makes most of us uncomfortable. Yet change is constant in our lives, even if we are not aware of the change. With enough practice, we might even become comfortable with change. The trick is to develop comfort with change and NOT with the status quo. Instead we must afflict those of us who have become comfortable with the way things are—we must make the case for change. We must strive to disrupt ourselves.

I’ve noticed this difficulty with respect to one of the hot topics of the day—automation and employment. In an interview with people in Detroit about the status of manufacturing, one bright lady made the observation that manufacturing is doing just fine, it’s employment in manufacturing that is down. She challenged the conventional wisdom that we could “bring manufacturing back” to the U.S. Instead, she said, automation has all but eliminated those employment opportunities, so we need new thinking to solve the issue of how humans will create value for themselves.

Danger in the Comfort Zone

In other words, our comfort with the economic model of our past has clouded our understanding of the possibilities for our future. As Sandy Shugart said, our “comfort is what undermines us.” The larger questions in front of us will require that we take risks and try some new things. What does it mean to have a “Gig Economy”? How do we manage remote workers? What happens when more factories follow the “lights out, no air-conditioning” model of Fanuc?

It takes true leadership and extreme ownership for us to address these challenges. How do we help our organizations move out of the comfort zone? Are you ready to “comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” I believe that is going to be our leadership challenge going forward. What are your thoughts?