Embrace the Uncomfortable

You know those awkward family photos you can find all over the internet? Yeah, someone should have had an uncomfortable, but very necessary, chat with the denim-clad bunch in this picture. I mean really–how did the photographer keep a straight face? Is it possible to sue for photographer malpractice? I’m going to check into that. But in the meantime…

Leading a team or organization is almost certainly going to land you in awkward and uncomfortable moments from time to time. There’s a certain amount of discomfort that just comes with the territory. Instead of shying away from it, we should embrace it as an opportunity to demonstrate leadership where it’s needed.

It’s uncomfortable to have important conversations sometimes. Not many folks enjoy having to sit down with an employee or client and tell them they’re not doing well at this or that. It’s necessary and vital that we have those conversations, but they’re sure uncomfortable sometimes. What teams and organizations need, however, is leaders who care deeply enough about their team and the organization to step up, embrace the uncomfortable moment, and have those critical conversations.

It can be super uncomfortable to challenge conventional ways of doing things at your organization (what I sometimes call organizational sacred cows). Frankly, though, if you’re a leader, that’s part of your job. Organizations that adapt and evolve often do so because someone, somewhere along the way, decided it was more important to push the organization forward than it was for him or her to be comfortable. Granted, the level of difficulty with something like this increases exponentially when the aforementioned organizational sacred cows belong to an executive who’s difficult to deal with, but still, the point remains. Then again, I’m a big fan of organizational sacred cow tipping.

You remember that story about the emperor? The one where he’s wandering around buck naked because no one was willing to have an awkward moment and tell him he was naked? That’s an easy metaphor for what happens in organizations all the time. In many instances, bad ideas go unchallenged because it’s easier to sit quietly than to vocalize an objection to an idea or to propose a different and possibly better alternative.

So look–if the emperor’s walking around in his birthday suit, perhaps you should be the one with the courage and guts to tell him he’s naked. And if you’re a photographer, please, for the love of pancakes and pogo sticks, tell your clients if they’re about to make a huge photographic blunder that’s sure to wind up on the internet where everyone will proceed to mercilessly make fun of them. On second thought–don’t. Those pictures are hilarious.

2 thoughts on “Embrace the Uncomfortable

  • What happens when those ‘sacred cows’ are long time employees who have pretty much driven their own agenda? I’ve worked with enough people who make the claim, “I’ll survive this new guy like I have all the others”. Their adept enough at changing their personalities and behavior based on who is in the corner office (and everyone else be damned).

    A real leader does not have employees who have a sense of entitlement in their position.

    • Well, like I said, I’m a big fan of sacred-cow-tipping. 🙂 In a healthy culture, situations like what you mentioned aren’t really rare. In almost any cultural initiative, there will be folks who resist (whether vocally or more subtly like you’re describing). Then it becomes a matter of getting at the really human elements at play. Eventually–not just at the drop of a hat–that sort of employee may self-select out if they feel they’re just not a fit. Or, it may be that the leadership has to make difficult personnel decisions in order to live according to, and in some ways protect, the culture.

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