(This report is an excerpt from “7 Moments… That Define Excellent Leaders”.)

Success naturally makes us comfortable. We want to enjoy our success, so we tend to slow down… just a little, we let our focus slip… just a little, we play it safe… just a little. It might be hard to see this in ourselves, but it’s easy to see it in the world of sports. How many times have we seen teams lose their momentum and then lose the game because instead of playing to win, they began playing not to lose? They get ahead, but then they pull back and stop playing with the intensity that earned them the lead. For those of us who are Dallas Mavericks basketball fans, we are all too familiar with these momentum swings.

The same temptation traps leaders. As we exceed expectations and hit our targets, our team might feel like they are cruising for their best year ever. Then, all of a sudden, we shift our focus from gaining momentum to sustaining momentum. The moment leaders change focus, momentum vanishes. Most teams just can’t seem to “run up the score” on their opponents.

The challenge is that we are all hardwired for comfort. My entire career, I have helped organizations and individuals manage changes and step outside their comfort zones. However, last year I received a letter from my bank, informing me that I would no longer be able to pay my bill via touchtone phone and I would have to move to online banking. Well, I resisted that change more than all my toughest clients combined!

I knew what was going on, but my hardwiring kicked in. Of course, like most changes, my resistance was disproportionate to the degree of required change. As it turned out, the new online system was a huge improvement over the old way I was clinging to. Is it the same way with most changes we finally make?

In business, the cost of not changing has much bigger implications than just simply changing from a touchtone to mouse click. The stakes are high. Leaders who “grasp the past” are quickly left right there… in the past. Leaders who seize the moment to change are catapulted into a brighter future.

Here are a few steps we can take to convert distressing moments of change into defining moments of change.

First, find delight on your own discomfort. The way to keep your momentum is to seek discomfort. This does not mean you are never satisfied with yourself or others. Rather, it will provide a healthy alertness of where you can improve. By delighting in this state of discomfort, you will be more relaxed and more likely to see creative ways to improve. In other words, it will help you stay on the offense and thrive versus playing defensively and merely surviving. By capturing this mental state of delighting in discomfort, you will easily be able to evacuate your comfort zones.

If we do not change, we limit our lives and our leadership. Leaders who “delight in discomfort” say, “If you are always changing, it never feels like you are really changing.” In other words, delighting in discomfort makes us comfortable with change. It defines the way we change.

Second, when you feel like you are cruising to victory, take a look around… but not only at your opponents. Look for anyone, any team, who is the very best at what they do. Compare yourself to them. What are they doing that makes them bigger, faster, better, smarter than you? Excellent leaders are never satisfied, never complacent.

It’s easy for us to look at those we are beating and feel pretty good about ourselves. Looking at those who we can learn from, those who might have better “game” than we do keeps us humble and focused on improving our own game.

Third, lead beyond the status quo – always focus on the next level. Here is an acid test to determine if we are leading for the status quo versus the next level. If you can achieve your goals doing “business as usual,” then your goals are not big enough and you won’t get to the next level. Your goals should force changes, require tough decisions and inspire bold actions.

The next time you are feeling comfortable, enjoy the moment… but just a moment. Then, seize the very next moment to change!

Seize the moment now!  Take the 7 Moments Indicator to see how close you are to leadership excellence.

Copyright © 2006 by Lee J. Colan