Leadership by definition challenges the status quo. It’s: General Patton driving his troops in hot pursuit of General Rommel, The Desert Fox, in North Africa. Martin Luther King Jr. galvanizing our nation with his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Steve Jobs inspiring his entire organization to “Think Different,” and not only changing his company, but several industries as well. However, when you challenge the “status quo,” when you ask people to change either what they do and/or how they do it, you will run smack into your most insidious and intractable enemy: “the comfort zone.” In order to defeat an enemy, you must first define it and truly understand it:

1. If you are comfortable, you’re not growing. This is one of the reasons that extreme personal and/or professional adversity is so often the catalyst for tremendous growth in both character and performance. We are forced to rise to the occasion by digging deeper than we thought we could, developing skills and capabilities we didn’t have and reaching out for the support and insights of friends, colleagues and team members to help us broaden our field of vision.

2. Comfort zones are not static. Here’s an analogy. When speaking to a group of FAs we’ll ask, “Has anyone in the room ever broken a bone and had to wear a cast for a few months? Now, when you removed the cast, were the muscles in your arm larger, smaller or about the same?” Of course the response is always, “The muscle has gotten smaller.” Right, it’s called atrophy. When you don’t use a muscle over an extended period of time, it atrophies. Comfort zones work on the same principle, they’re constantly compressing around you, they are getting smaller unless you consciously and consistently push out against them. Let’s stick with this analogy a bit longer. If you want to strengthen a muscle what must you do? Systematically and consistently put it under stress, i.e., push it outside of its current comfort zone. This is the only way to achieve growth. As soon as you get comfortable, the growth stops. Whether it’s incorporating a new and improved technology, adding a new functional capability to your wealth management strategy or integrating a new team member; great leaders help their people get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

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