Leadership hack 021 – getting out of the comfort zone

Encouraging your team to adopt a ‘growth mindset‘ will benefit you, your team and your bottom line (see HBR article here).  When Satya Nadella took over as Microsoft’s CEO spent considerable time and energy encouraging those around him to adopt a growth mindset (see this HBR article), and while he has also made some great strategic decisions (e.g., Azure, reducing Windows’ importance and AI), many suggest that his changing Microsoft culture was his most challenging and most successful problem.

Here is how I explain a growth mindset to my team.  I draw the diagram below in on a whiteboard or notepad.  I show the three levels of stress placed on an individual in their work environment.  The ‘comfort zone‘ is where most people spend the majority of their time at work.  The work may be complicated or complex, but it is not difficult, challenging or new.  The ‘growth zone‘ is where a person needs to adapt and learn new skills, and while it is challenging and umcomfrotable they can make progress.  The ‘panic zone‘ is where the situation is so different or stressful that it is beyond a person’s ability to cope.


Psychologists have suggested that our ability to handle mental stress and improve can be trained and improved (see TED talk at the link below for a more, in-depth explanation).

Explain to your team how repeated exposure in small doses increases tolerance (see the blue arrows below), and allows people to deal with greater stress – pushing out the comfort and growth zones.


Next, you need to explain that if when people fail to leave their comfort zone their tolerance reduces, they will be less able to deal with sudden shocks and less able to develop new skills or take on new responsibilities (see diagram below).


Being pushed too hard pushes people into a panic, which can have serious consequences.  Stress, at a level you are not used to, is likely to manifest itself in mental and even physical symptoms.  Under high stress, your decision-making ability is compromised as you are more vulnerable to cognitive biases.  Once you have crossed the threshold into a panic, need to go back to your comfort zone to recover.  The experience of panic will have also shrunk your growth and panic zones, making you more vulnerable in the future,


While I do not have any formal psychology training or education, I have used these framework to help members of my team to better understand the stress and help them adopt a growth mindset.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or feedback on this post.