The picture above is from ‘Remember the Titans’ – one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s based on the true story of an African-American coach Herman Boone and his attempt to integrate a high school football team in the early 70’s. Victory for the team was more than a winning football season. The conviction of one man ushered in a seminal change of integration and racial tolerance not only for the young men on that football team but for the community and many generations to follow. It was truly inspiring.
Transformation can be life-changing as so poignantly captured in the movie. But with such change, there is often fear, anxiety, doubt, and discomfort. It is the feeling of “discomfort” that moves many leaders to abandon transformational change and even unwittingly condemn it altogether. Unfortunately, this discomfort isn’t limited to new organizational structures, streamlined processes, or updated technologies but often with the very people we have an obligation to serve.
Many leaders do not even recognize their discomfort due to the Unconscious Bias deep within them. But you don’t need to look much further than your own organization to see that in our modern-day workplace, substantive change actually requires us to seek differences, even bold differences, from our own leadership style.
I remember a leadership development program I attended early in my career. It was facilitated by a global leadership consulting firm – an unquestionable authority on developing exceptional leaders. One key exercise required us to select a team to launch a new service offering. We were given a stack of resumes with short summaries of how each candidate was viewed by the organization – some good, others not so good but very qualified. We had 15 minutes to select the team. I failed the exercise.
I failed because not only did I select team members that I could easily relate with, but I never asked who provided the “views” of the candidates we were selecting. Were these the views of one person? People who never met or interacted with these individuals? Some of you of may think that since this was a simulated exercise, with little time to think, that the results would be different in the real world. However, unconscious bias has been proven to show that our behaviors are conditioned without deep thought and reflection. Please keep that in mind.
As many of you have experienced, company cultures are built on bias, familiarity, and comfort. Traditions and behaviors are passed down. Leadership styles are copied. New employees conform in hopes to be accepted. Consequently, many teams are built with predisposition. This is where courageous leaders must stand tall and create change – much like Coach Boone did. This is an opportunity – your opportunity – to welcome discomfort.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting destructive discomfort such as public humiliation, disrespectful behavior, or other disruptive act. The discomfort to endure must have a purpose and be rooted in a genuine commitment of renewal and excellence. Make your team and yourself uncomfortable with the intent to educate. Each opportunity I have to lead an organization, I keep this in mind: DISCOMFORT causes QUESTIONS, questions create DISCUSSION, discussion leads to LEARNING, and learning enables CHANGE.
Set aside some time in the coming weeks to take a bold step towards discomfort. It won’t be easy, but then again anything worth doing never really is. There is a transformation waiting for YOU to step in – go get it.