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Everybody Has His Own Comfort Zone

Posted By Heinz Landau On August 1, 2009 @ 10:00 In Human Resources, Leadership, Management | Comments Disabled

In May this year, I went on a safari holiday to South Africa. We spent nine days in the Etali Safari Lodge [1] in the Madikwe Game Reserve. Daily, we went on game drives from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. It was an amazing experience which we definitely will want to repeat within a couple of years. We saw a great number of animals from a close distance and were able to watch all of the so-called “Big Five” (elephant, rhinoceros, lion, leopard and buffalo).

On one of our first game drives, Ronnie, the Botswanian spotter who was sitting on a seat on top of the bonnet of our jeep, discovered a lion lying in the grass. We were sitting in an open safari jeep. To my big surprise, Ruan, our South-African ranger, drove the jeep into and through the bush and stopped just about 3.5 m in front of the lion. Wow! My seven year old son Jomar climbed on my lap. He was obviously scared, and so was I. We watched the lion silently for a few minutes. He was still lying down quietly in the grass, only from time to time lifting his head to check whether everything is still o.k., before lying down again.

Since it was my first safari ever , I wondered: I didn’t expect to have such a close encounter with a male full-grown lion, especially not from an open jeep. It reminded me of our meeting on the first day with Ruan when I told him that we forgot to bring our binoculars along. His laconic reply was: “ We are going so close to the animals that you won’t need binoculars.” Aha, now I understood.

After having observed the lion for a few more minutes, I finally asked the ranger: “How does it come that the lion allows us to get so near to him?” Ruan answered: “Everybody has his own comfort zone!”.

That made me think. I recalled a time a few years ago when I stepped out of my comfort zone. Since I am more the fast-paced, action-driven, business-focused type of guy, I used to keep at work a rather distant relationship (predominantly business-based) with most of the members of our Leadership Team as well as with my other colleagues. I was holding the position of Chairman and Managing Director and the fact that Thailand is having a very hierarchical society and work culture, didn’t exactly make things easier.

I realized that my previous approach could take a relationship only so far.

I was wondering how much distance should really exist between me and the people I work closely with, like e.g. the members of my Leadership Team. From that point onwards, I began to consciously open up more towards my colleagues. I started to have much more casual chats with them, not like previously where we focused so much on business issues. We talked more about family life, a trip which someone took over the weekend, a new movie, sports etc. We took more interest in each other and cared about us. I noticed that, as a result, gradually I got much closer to my co-workers, not only to the members of the Leadership Team, but also to many other staff members, due to the fact that I showed more and more of my private side and so did the colleagues. I was no longer perceived as cold and distant which is a somewhat typical image of a CEO.

One exercise that I felt was particularly valuable was my introduction of a quarterly Leadership Team Off-site Meeting which we held in hotels a two to three hours drive away from Bangkok. These meetings were typically scheduled for Friday to Saturday or Friday to Sunday and had the right balance between business and leisure. Spending many hours closely together made us a much stronger team and gave us a lot of mileage and momentum when we had to discuss serious business issues in the office.

In many things in life, there is often an easy option (= our comfort zone), be it in relationships, in business or in our leisure time. However, stepping out of it, can often lead to reaping huge rewards, like growing as an individual or as an organization. Therefore, think whether you are currently in a comfort zone that you would benefit from leaving and if so, what is stopping you and what can you do about it?

Finally, coming back to the lion: if he, as the king of the animals, is able to display such a show of strength and sovereignty while facing a rather stressful situation with people in an open jeep getting so close to him, it should serve us as an inspiring example to break out of our comfort zone in order to progress in life and in business. And, in the end, let us not forget: the lion is always aware of the risky situation he is in, and yet, in case of doubt, he will be with one mighty leap in the open jeep. :-)

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[1] Etali Safari Lodge: http://www.etalisafari.co.za

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