Make the Comfortable Uncomfortable

I coach lacrosse with my friend Pete. Coach Pete, who played Division I lacrosse back in the day, certainly looks the part. Big, fast, strong, and possessing a booming voice, one would think the new kids on the team would be intimidated by him, and only the seasoned players would be the ones who would dare to push his buttons, or have the audacity to slack off during drills.

It’s just the opposite. The new kids find him approachable, inviting and encouraging as a coach. Yet the kids who have been playing with Coach Pete for a few years find him sometimes demanding and expecting excellence. He pushes those experienced players the hardest.

Pete has a coaching philosophy worth borrowing. “Make the comfortable uncomfortable, and the uncomfortable comfortable.” What he means is that the new kids are already moderately intimidated by trying a new sport, developing new skills, immersing themselves in a fast, and often chaotic game. They are already on edge, and perhaps even a bit past the positive learning state that creates excellence. When the challenge and chaos of the game exceeds their skill and ability to deal with it, they feel overwhelmed, and move from a state of thriving and learning to a state of retreat. They close down. They drop a pass, take a hit going to a ground ball, and can’t figure out the strange offside rule. The game suddenly isn’t fun.

Inversely, the kids who have played the game for a few years have their posse, their attitude, and their predictable set of moves. These are the ones who need to try new things, who need to cradle and shoot with their non-dominant hand, play a new position, and work on the face-offs that start the game. They need to get out of their comfort zone. They will learn to see more of the game and become better players.

These are emotionally fluent leaders – those who can read people at their current comfort level and present just the right amount of challenge to let their skills and capabilities evolve. Sometimes to accelerate excellence, circumstances need to be chaotic by design – intentionally unstable.

Working in a world of constant change is half the fun of it. Deadlines shift, goalposts move, budgets shrink, markets evolve, new competition emerges, perceptions alter, stakeholders clash, and just when you are ready to deliver, your product is antiquated. After all, it takes a storm to make a rainbow.