The Hidden Secret to Growing Inside Your Comfort Zone

The single most powerful predictor of performance is the sense that a person has the opportunity to use his or her strengths every day at work. Research from the Gallup Organization has demonstrated that negative feedback is 40X more effective as a team leadership approach than zero feedback. But, positive attention is 30X more powerful than negative attention and 1,200X more impactful than ignoring people. So, if paying attention to what people can’t do is a leader’s typical default strategy and attention is directed at giving negative feedback, there’s a lot of human potential being left on the table.The truth is that employees don’t need feedback. They need attention to what they do best which leads to more engagement and more productivity. Leaders need to stop separating “performance” from “development” and focus less on employees’ shortcomings and more on building upon their strengths. That’s where exponential growth will come from.

Each of us has a unique brain with neural plasticity such that you grow far more neurons and synaptic connections where you already have the most of them. The brain grows most where it’s already stronger. According to neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, “Brain growth is like new buds on an existing branch rather than new branches.” This biological truth turns the popularized notion that to grow you need to “step out of your comfort zone” upside down. Rock climbing under the guise of leadership development may be exhilarating albeit terrifying to conscripted employees but our brains actually stop paying attention to anything but surviving. This is why debriefing such activities is such a challenge for facilitators who struggle to get participants to draw the connection back to the workplace. We actually learn more inside our comfort zones where our strengths reside, where our neural pathways are the most concentrated, and where we are most open to possibility, creativity, and insight.

For job seekers, transferable skills are like clusters of neurons and synaptic connections. The things we do best and feel most confident about are reflective of what we most love doing. To pursue meaningful work requires identifying and building on the skills we most enjoy and deepening our expertise in them. When we accrue new skills for the sole sake of amassing them without tying them back to how they fit in to what we love doing dooms us to dissatisfaction and disengagement with future work we undertake. Perhaps we’d be best served by losing the term comfort zone and replacing it with creative zone since it would admit strengths-based experimentation, exploration, and examination without jumping off a cliff attached to a bungee cord and trying to figure out the “why” on the way down.

  • Certified Business Coach (Expert Level)
  • Certified Professional Career Coach (CPCC)
  • PhD Marketing, MA Psychology
  • LinkedIn profile in Top 25 MA, PhD profiles in U.S.
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  • Featured in Sharing Ideas, the leading publication for public speaking professionals

Profiled on ESPN2’s “Extreme Magazine” TV show for leadership and team building 


Recognized by in its:

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