Should You Push Employees Outside Their Comfort Zones?

Pushing employees outside their comfort zones is often necessary to move toward a desired future state for your organization. For instance, if you’re leading a process improvement initiative you’ll push many people outside their comfort zones. The more significant or fundamental the change, the more uncomfortable people will be. If you see yourself as a change agent, expect to spend a lot time in this space.

Pushing an individual outside his comfort zone can bring about growth. In the course of mentoring someone you might see that he’s ready to take a particular step in his development. For instance, you see he’s ready to take on his first supervisory role. But he’s not sure he’s ready. You might have to push him out of the nest. If your intuition is right, he’ll grow in his confidence, his self-image and his capability. If your intuition is right, the entire organization benefits.

Pushing people outside their comfort zones also helps to combat complacency. You can find pockets of complacency in almost any organization. For whatever reason, people can get into a space where good enough is good enough. To combat this complacency great leaders push people outside their comfort zones. They demand higher standards of performance and they hold people accountable to achieve those standards.

So yes, there are many situations in which it’s a good idea to push employees outside their comfort zones. But like any approach it can be implemented inappropriately. For example, you might cast someone without an eye for detail into a role where every detail must be right. Or you might cast someone who dislikes selling into a sales role. You’re asking them for responses they don’t have in their repertoire. Pushing them outside their comfort zones in these sorts of cases will degrade their self-esteem and cause them to leave.

Pushing people outside their comfort zones can also be overdone. You can, for instance, focus relentlessly on their mistakes, weaknesses and performance deficiencies. No matter how good they do, focus on the flaws in their performance. You’ll have them outside their comfort zones all the time, but in an undesirable way. One senior manager once told me about his organization, “In our company continuous improvement translates into constant criticism.” If you overdo the criticism people will disengage.

Great leaders don’t lead to maintain the status quo. As you help your organization and your people grow you’ll push them outside their comfort zones. To get them to follow you into the unknown, they must believe in you. And they must know that you care deeply about them, that you seek their greatest good, and that you believe in them without reservation.

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg


3 thoughts on “Should You Push Employees Outside Their Comfort Zones?

  1. Definitely should as it is the only way to help them to grow, to be something bigger than themselves every time, all the time. As long as the leader walk the talk, it will influence employees to transfer themselves from employees to volunteers which is the highest status a human being can ever achieve. So that those “pushed” by the leader can share these positive experience with others to make them better. This is the real positive re-enforcement. Fortunately, I have been trained in that environment at Wal-Mart through Larry Keiter ( you can find him in the Linkedin), so I can get so much done with or without minimum resources across four out of five continents. Now, I am doing the same to others and for others to write their own history.


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