Leave Your Comfort Zone . . .

Posted in Life on December 10th, 2010 by kjr – 2 Comments

. . . Often

The sequence of events in this post tells a story. The mountain range at left is, for me, the most beautiful in North America -The Grand Tetons. Its crown, right in the middle, is Grand Teton peak – at 13,770’. The summit is reached only after a series of technical rope climbs.

In August of 2006 a close friend of mine and I summitted the Grand. Technical Rock climbing was something neither of us had ever done before. We had great training and were guided by exceptional people from Exum Mountain Guides located outside Jackson, WY.

But it was a long way from our comfort zone.

I learned many, many lessons on this trip – lessons that I only would have learned if I was willing to leave my comfort zone and extend what I believed possible.

A favorite lesson is explained through the next picture in this sequence. When my turn came to climb the section you see here and I reached the perch you see my friend at in this picture – I fell. Popped off that wall like a cork out of a bottle of champagne.

So, what did I learn?

Lesson 1 – systems work. I was on belay, my friend  (after this now my really good friend) was alert, had his hands positioned correctly (for once) and simply caught me and lowered me to the ground.

Lesson 2 – preparation is important. We’d practiced and practiced the right moves in case someone fell. When I did, it was almost instinct on what he needed to do to keep me safe.

Lesson 3 – the summit may not be the real accomplishment. After falling and being carefully lowered to the ground, I quickly got back up and started climbing again. But later when I was faced with the need to step out on a ledge in order to keep climbing – fear gripped me like never before in my life. Cold sweat, shakes, and the proverbial head spinning because of the anxiety I had about the potential of falling; and the ground this time was hundreds of feet down, not forty (not that it matters much after 25).

So, I took a deep breath and pushed past the anxiety and started out on the ledge. About ½ way out, the fear went away, the shakes stopped, my stomach settled down.

The summit was great, a real gift to be up there at 9:00AM on a beautiful clear day, but when I think about this climb, it’s not the summit I count as the only and important accomplishment. It was pushing past the fear and anxiety of that nagging thought “what will happen if…”

All these lessons would not have been learned “by experience” if I’d stayed within my comfort zone.

These lessons apply to many things in work and life.

Think about the safety and even the opportunities provided by systems that are there for good order. Our system of driving is a good example. We routinely travel 65 MPH or more a mere few feet from another vehicle also traveling that fast. We are able to do that when each of us is prepared and follows the conventions, expectations, and yes – the rules of the system. Any of you who’ve been in places where traffic laws are essentially non-existent can appreciate this idea.

What about the policies and procedures we use at our work or in our businesses? When obeyed or practiced, they keep order in accounting, ethics, the treatment of people. Systems provide the expectations and ways to engage others. They may be laws, policies, traditions, or cultural norms, but the systems are beneficial. They may not save lives, like the system of rope climbing, but they save us from chaos.

Preparation is key to doing something well. You’re asked to give a presentation in front of your board of directors; do you prepare? You take a new job in a field or area that is unfamiliar to you; do you prepare?

The real accomplishments in our lives may not be the summit, or promotion, or title, it may be the experiences gained, the relationships we’ve made, or the things we’ve learned along the way.

Failure is only failure if we refuse to accept the lessons and values gained by our efforts.

Page 2…The right choice is often hard

Posted in Life on December 6th, 2010 by kjr – Comments Off on Page 2…The right choice is often hard

…and sometimes it’s personal. . .

As some of you may know my daughter Betsy had a bout with cancer earlier this year.  Lots and lots could be said (or written) about the emotions and thoughts a father can have when your child is faced with such a report.

But, that’s not what I will write about.

Instead I will relate how this Axiom was lived by her and how it came clear to me that maybe, just maybe we passed along something.

After surgery and initial treatment Betsy, who was in her final year of nursing college, went back to school. Class and clinical training were on the schedule. She was tired, worn out and emotionally stretched. But many hours of class and previous training was soon to be over, and it was clear with an extra push of work and stoic resolve she’d finish, graduate, and in a few months be able to practice nursing.

That’s how some stories go…strong woman, grits her teeth, presses through and becomes what she set out to be. And, she could have done that, I am sure.

But she didn’t, she stopped, made the decision to drop out of school and postpone graduating nursing school for what may be close to a full year.


She put it best when she told me what she was going to do:

Dad, I’m emotionally on the edge, it’s hard for me to concentrate, I am tired and worn out. If you were in the hospital- sick, or hurt, would you want me dispensing your medications?

The right choice- it was hard, and it was personal. But still right.

The “right” choice is often hard

Posted in Leadership on November 29th, 2010 by kjr – 1 Comment

Over the years I have also referred to this axiom as: “The right thing to do is often the harder choice you are confronted with”.

Leadership (and life too) is many, many times dealing with ambiguity. Some of the synonyms of ambiguity I think can describe our thoughts and feelings when confronted with difficult choices: vagueness, doubt, puzzle, uncertainty, obscurity, enigma, haziness.

The choices and paths seem as twisted and hard to follow as the branches in this sycamore tree I often bicycle past.

At some point in our career as managers or leaders, we are faced with a problem where the path to resolution is unclear, and the outcome at the beginning is unknown.

Sometimes we are confronted with choices in life- neither of which leave us totally comfortable and resolved.

Let me use examples to illustrate this.

Most of us at some point in our careers, if we manage or lead people, will be confronted with a difficult employee. This is almost always a good person- who is smart, and certainly at some point was considered capable. Yet, something changed. Either he or she allowed themselves to become stale in skills, or perhaps because of disappointments, became disillusioned and embittered.

What do you do? Too often I have seen where, after considerable effort has been spent on trying to turn the performance or attitude of such a person around, a manager is confronted with the choice to move them out, or move them on. -Meaning fire them, or transfer them to a different department.

The harder choice is the right choice. Taking the steps to remove someone from our employ is hard. We don’t want to have the conversation telling them they are out of a job. We don’t want to go through the process required by law and/or our HR department or union to ensure fairness and consistency.

We make excuses and build barriers to things –like our HR policies don’t ever make it possible to “let someone go”, -or we say, ‘Well this is just a bad match and I need to find a new role in a different department so they can start fresh.’

What ends up happening if we simply shuffle such a person? Here’s my suggested list:

  • The person continues, stuck in the rut of playing the victim and is denied the opportunity that the shock of being fired will give them;
  • The department receiving this employee finds out some months later they’ve inherited a problem, and if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this you know you feel like you’ve been duped;
  • The peers of this person are relieved that they no longer need to deal with the lack of solid competency or poor attitude, yet, they know you didn’t have the fortitude (backbone) to “do the right thing”;
  • You have lost some respect of all of the people involved.

Yes, I agree, you didn’t have to go through all the bureaucratic processes, paperwork and meetings to show, and document, and file all the reasons and examples of why this person needed to leave your company. But as a leader you lost; you didn’t gain.

In my next post, I’ll write about a situation in life where, being confronted with ambiguity left someone needing to make a right choice that was hard.