If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not leading

People don’t like to be uncomfortable. I cannot recall the last time I had a conversation with a leader where the subject of “difficult conversations” about performance did not come up as one of their most feared situations. Second to that is concern about telling people that “change is coming.” Meanwhile, we face the reality that forward progress inevitably requires change, and change itself is uncomfortable. What’s a leader to do?

To be an effective leader, you’ve got to get over yourself.The raison d’être – the core justification – for your job is to solve problems, to declare new futures, to reallocate resources, and to name the elephants in the room.

In other words, your role by definition requires that you create discomfort, both for you and for others. I’m not advocating for “control freaks” or for those with anger issues to run amok in the workplace, because those behaviors create a dysfunctional form of discomfort. I’m simply reminding you that, in today’s fast-moving world, you must continually stir the pot of change and regularly hold people accountable for delivering on their commitments.

To be effective in your job, then, you must become friends with unease, concern, nervousness, and even trepidation.When you become intentionally familiar with those emotions in small doses, you will gradually strengthen your ability to manage them. You will find yourself more capable of holding difficult conversations because you’ll be confident in your ability to “live through the experience.”

How do you “practice” feeling comfortable with discomfort?

  1. Have small conversations about minor concerns.Address little performance issues as they occur, versus waiting until someone’s job is in jeopardy.
  2. Rehearse your conversations with a coach or colleague.Many times the fear of delivering a difficult message dissipates when you speak it aloud in a practice session.
  3. When a change is imminent, try talking with people about the high-level issues and direction as soon as possible. By the time the final details emerge you and the team will have gotten gradually used to the idea(s).
  4. Have difficult conversations as quickly as you can when issues surface. Ninety percent of your drama and discomfort come from the “stories” you create about whatmight happen. Act before your imagination freaks you out.

Remember: Leadership is not about a title. Anyone can be a leader who steps into the discomfort of a difficult conversation, knowing that on the other side of that discomfort lays greater potential for progress, accomplishment, and a more positive workplace experience.



Jim Smith, PCC, is The Executive Happiness Coach®. He is an international speaker, executive and life coach, and author. He provides his clients with inspiration and practical tools to live a happier life and build more positive work cultures. He is the author of Happiness At The Speed of Life: 13 Powerful Strategies for Finding Happiness at Home and On The Job, and has touched the lives of over 10,000 people worldwide through his work on Positive Emotion and Leadership. You can connect with Jim at theexecutivehappinesscoach.com.