Priceless opportunities outside comfort zone

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Colin O'Neill
  • 81st Training Group
For many, the subject of leadership permeates our daily conversations, and with good reason, for without effective leadership the mission suffers. Often we acknowledge the criticality of leadership to our operations, yet stop short of exploring some methods we can use to develop our people. 

One effective way to grow the leadership skills of our people is to push them gently, but firmly, out of their comfort zone. Mother birds employ this technique by nudging their offspring out of the nest. Pushing their young out of the safety of the nest might seem almost cruel; however, it is this very push that teaches young birds to fly. 

While stationed in England I was forced from my comfort zone. I was quite content as an assistant NCOIC of my work center. What could possibly be better than being "Number Two?" I had all of the visibility and prestige without all of the responsibility! Life was good! 

One fateful day, my flight commander summoned me to her office. She told me what a great job I was doing, and then informed me she was looking for someone to become the noncommissioned officer in charge of the maintenance control/base network control center. She did not realize that I had achieved a rare state of self-actualization in quality control and that I should not be moved under any circumstances. Following an uneasy pause, I replied, "Ma'am, there isn't a place on the face of this green earth I'd rather not go than to Maintenance Control." She gave me the gentle nudge and it didn't work; now was time for the firm push! She clearly explained she could "order" me to go, but one way, or the other, I was to take the reins of the Maintenance Control center. I knew the battle was lost and replied, "No ma'am, I volunteer." 

As I left her office I was convinced I was completely unqualified for this job. How could I possibly take charge of a section I knew nothing about ... could I answer all of the difficult questions and make the tough calls? 

A smile crossed my face a couple of years later as I recalled the events that unfolded following my move. My flight commander's push was the catalyst that caused me to develop more during that time than any other period in my career. I learned that my people were my greatest asset, and if I took care of them they would take care of the mission. Each success built my confidence and better equipped me to lead. 

If you want to develop and groom your people to become tomorrow's leaders, guide them in the right direction today. Challenge them with new opportunities that will expand their horizons, unlock their potential and build their confidence. It's possible you might need to firmly coach them through a period of initial resistance as they prepare themselves mentally to take the next step. Firmly encouraging your people to leave their comfort zone may be the very thing they need to soar to new horizons.