Leaders in organisations face many challenges on a daily basis. How do they manage these challenges?. In my coaching practice, I observed that many leaders react to these challenges with panic or stress. What does this mean? These leaders see challenges as creating for them – a discomfort, an irritation, an anxiety and confusion. Some of their reactions in managing these challenges include; procrastinating, avoiding, criticising self, criticising others, blaming others, justifying why it is stupid and pointless, among others. As their coach, the question I pose to these leaders is- “Is there another way of embracing these challenges that showcases a better version of themselves as a great leader?”
Let me share one client-case where I supported a team leader to embrace the challenges she was facing. Being appointed as a new leader to an existing team, this leader sensed that the team members resented her and did not give her the support she needed. They started to drag their feet on projects and refused to give her co-operation. She was also under tremendous pressure to perform by her line manager.
During the coaching sessions, the team leader became aware that her normal pattern of responding to challenges was – becoming stressed and procrastinating, as she was fearful of making mistakes. Upon deep exploration, the team leader shared that she saw herself as very small and not capable to lead the team.
I shared with the team leader the model of “comfort zone-learning zone-panic zone” by Tom Senninger (2000). The team leader became aware that in the absence of challenges, she is able to feel safe, there are zero surprises, all things planned are taking place, no discomfort exists and no new response is needed. This is when she is in the “Comfort Zone”. Additionally, when challenges appear, she tends to move from her “comfort zone” straight into the “Panic Zone”. Here, she feels uncomfortable, stressed, fearful and not safe. Her energy is spent in managing and controlling her fears via the fight/flight/freeze modes. She does not have any energy to create new behaviours to address the challenges. She is not being resourceful in this panic zone.
During the coaching, the leader gained this insight of her behavior pattern. With this realization, the leader now had CHOICES as to different ways to deal with her challenges. She can choose to either stay in the panic zone (where she is not resourceful as she cannot create new behaviours) or move into the LEARNING ZONE (a more resourceful state). In the Learning zone, one will feel excited to try out new things and new behaviours. He/She will be more willing to make mistakes and accepts them as part of the process of learning and growing. He/She will empathise with other people in the workspace as they appreciate and value the learning stages of each other.
This leader made a choice to move into the leaning zone so that she can create new behaviours to support her in managing the challenges that arise. To do that, she had to calm her nerves, her flood of feelings of discomfort and her anxiety. There are several steps to achieve this. The quickest way was to revert to her comfort zone. This is because she experienced calmness there. She did some immediate exercises to get her to calm herself quickly as well as some daily repeated exercises to sustain and instill a practice of calmness and resourcefulness. Some of these exercises included; keeping the practice of a gratitude journal, going for a walk in nature, thinking and connecting with someone who makes you happy, praying, meditating, smiling, laughing, listening to music, dancing, writing, doing something different every day, among others. With this new regime of calmness-practice, this leader was able to manoeuvre the challenges by moving herself from her comfort zone into the learning zone. Now she saw herself becoming more resourceful, as ideas and new behaviours were created and generated by her quick thinking brain that had become agile as it was being nourished daily with new activities. She started to feel joy sparkling inside her. She was so proud that she was growing to become the leader she aspired to be.
Out of curiosity….it would be interesting to find out how you manage your daily challenges – do you fight them, avoid them or are you able to stay resourceful and generate options to address them?