Break Out of the Leadership Comfort Zone

Break-Out-of-the-Leadership-Comfort-Zone-Alli-PolinWe all like to spend time there: the Comfort Zone.  It’s the place where we are the most in control, we know our strengths, can minimize our weaknesses, it’s clear what’s coming around the corner, and we’re the experts on how to handle it masterfully.

Imagine, that before work every day, you eat the same cereal for breakfast for an entire year.  You love it; it’s your absolute favorite cereal.   It tastes good, it’s healthy and you know just the right amount to pour into your bowl even with your eyes closed.  The funny thing is, after a while, even your favorite becomes boring.  I hate to say it but maybe it’s not the cereal that’s become boring, but instead it’s you, living in a rut, that’s boring.

I may not have eaten the same breakfast cereal everyday, but my life in the Washington DC suburbs was definitely a predictable routine.  It was a busy cycle of kids, work, family, friends and I was constantly on the run as I made a daily valiant effort to get it all done.  In mid 2012 everything changed when I moved to the Australian Outback.  Talk about leaving my comfort zone!  The move enabled me to see life, work and leadership with fresh eyes.

Good news! You don’t need to be radical and move to the other side of the world to break out of your leadership comfort zone and move beyond the status quo.

Create Some Shake It Up Inspiration

It may feel awkward at first, but variation in your work “uniform” will actually give you, and your team, new energy.  Put on some silly socks, a bright tie or a vibrant shirt that you love.   Even small shake ups, when intentional, act as touchstones for our intention to be more open-minded, collaborative or just bring some lightness to an otherwise predictable routine.

Change Your Routine, Change Your Perspective

When we’re really stuck, the range of solutions available to us from inside of our comfort zone is limited.  Instead of staying in your routine, take a walk, drive a new way home from the office, go somewhere new for your afternoon coffee or hit the gym.  Focusing our attention outside of our heads and outside of our routines frequently shakes loose the inspiration we’re seeking.

Surprise Your Team

Leaders set the tone for their team and you may be unintentionally holding your team in the comfort zone with you.  Meetings are the perfect opportunity to surprise the team with new approaches to facilitate group discussion, brainstorming and decision-making.

Move beyond the status report to true interaction where people step up, share ideas and are accountable for collaboration. ~ Alli Polin Tweet this!

Action a Book

There are some amazing books on leadership out there – too many to read this week or this year.  For busy leaders, a great way to shift perspectives and grow their leadership wheelhouse is to read a book.  However, reading and having tons of ah-has are not enough to spark change.  Change happens when the ideas and approaches are put into action.  Stepping outside of the comfort zone and into new skills will mean failing along the way too.  Marry the failure with learning and the book has transformed from words on a page into leadership with impact.

Trade in Boring for Innovation and Adventure

Risk can be a scary word when we’re deeply entrenched in the comfort of the status quo.  As a leader, why should you foster innovation if you and your organization are successful today?  There are 100 companies right behind you and ready to undercut you on price for similar products and services.  Clients eyes glaze over after a while when the only differentiator is price.  Break out of the comfort zone and start with doing something different, not just making incremental improvements to today’s processes and products.

Create a Vision that Sparkles Like the North Star

Every leader needs to have a clear vision for what’s possible, the collective “why” for everyone’s hard work and effort.   Instead of sharing a vision that is bottom-line driven only (increase revenue) create a vision that connects to both hearts and minds.  How do you connect to hearts?  Leave the bullet points and PowerPoint at home and tell a story.  Stop hiding behind the comfort of statistics and charts!  Stories are the bridge to enroll, engage and inspire people to be a part of a compelling future.

Give yourself permission to still eat your cereal, wear your favorite tie and grab a cappuccino at your favorite Starbucks; just mix it up for some extraordinary leadership results.   

How has the comfort zone held you back from being an exceptional leader?  When have you been pushed outside of your comfort zone and what did you discover?

About Alli Polin

Alli Polin is Founder and CEO of Break the Frame, LLC. As a leadership coach, consultant and speaker, Alli focuses her work with people and organizations that are ready to break from the status quo, lead, and engage with renewed passion and purpose.

Embracing an opportunity for a great adventure, Alli recently moved with her amazing husband and two wonderful children from Northern Virginia, outside of Washington DC, to Australia where she continues to work with clients globally.

Connect with Alli Polin


  1. I once heard someone say “ruts are just like a coffin with the ends kicked out”! scary when you think of it in those term.
    I agree that leaders set the tone for their team and that meetings are the perfect opportunity to surprise the team with new approaches to facilitate group discussion, brainstorming and decision-making. I managed a team of 75 staff and I often would shake up our meetings to keep them thinking, learning and innovating. From videos, to guest speakers, to group activities, to a walk in the park and barefoot bowling they just never knew what to expect and they began to expect the unexpected and come up with ideas for me to do next themselves.
    thanks for your great article.

    • Thanks, Heidi! LOVE that quote! I’m inspired just thinking about your team! Thanks for sharing that yes, it IS do-able to shake things up and spark creativity and cultivate engagement on a consistent basis.

  2. Ali Paskun says:

    I love this contribution to the Blogathon. Staying in a rut can make things stale for you and your team. Changing things up a bit can make all the difference. Thank you Alli for sharing these simple yet effective techniques to change our perspectives and re-energize ourselves. I may not go to work tomorrow wearing silly socks, but I will be looking for small ways to make simple changes like you suggest.

    • Ali – Thanks for your comment! Changing things up, even a little bit, helps us think in new ways. I’m not wearing silly socks tomorrow either but will bring both the intention for fresh perspectives and and open mind.

      Thanks, Ali!

      ~ Alli

  3. Alli,

    Loved the article. The one thing that I have noticed from your posts is that the last point you mentioned in this blog post seems to be the thing that has been the most important factor in your actions.

    I call it Having a Why that Makes You Cry.

    Thanks for all the thought provoking articles.


    Richard Burns

    • Richard – Interesting way to say it! I like it! Having a Why that Makes You Cry. Having a why, a vision that’s big and inspiring, makes all the difference. Appreciate your kind comment and insights.

      ~ Alli

  4. Its a good thing to shake it up! I once had a friend share about how awkward it was when they showered in a different order.

    Routine can also help keep consistency, when you are performing well, routine can help keep a good pace.

    • Great point, Paul! The goal is to notice when we’re in a rut that is no longer serving us. Appreciating routine and flow, when we’re performing well, is important too. Thanks for your comment!


  5. Hi Alli. What a great reminder for all of us. Beware of the ruts. I believe effective leaders are always taking a look and saying “what may I do differently?” Don’t we all want to follow those who inspire excitement and bring innovation to the thought process? Thanks for a great post – and an inspiration to incorporate “silly socks” into my daily work.

    • Thank you, Susan! I know that I want to follow people that are constantly learning and stretching because they inspire (and allow) me to do the same. Awareness is the starting point that enables us to make other choices.

      ~ Alli

  6. Powerful post Alli !

    My personal favorite is putting on some silly socks !

    Your creativity resonates ~ what a bold move of yours moving as you did.

    Thanks so much for being there and for being so inspiring !

    With deepest admiration.


    • Johann –

      I’m so touched by your comment! Thank you!

      Silly socks are the perfect place to start the shake up. When things get tough, and you feel yourself falling into old patterns, one glace down at your feet will remind you of your intention. 🙂

      ~ Alli

  7. Alli,

    Not sure if you follow baseball but this post was like hitting for the cycle. I think is so relevant not only as leaders but with life. I am looking at becoming more of a leader and having more of an impact and I believe I have held myself back w/the fear to dare Dave identifies. And? I feel it needs to be addressed in every aspect of my life. Anything can suffer if allowed to stagnate; always comfortable isn’t alway good. Thank you for another great post and some new #perspective!

    • I don’t follow baseball (my Phillies fan husband wishes I did!) I admit, I just googled hitting for the cycle. Yes, in leadership, life and baseball we need to keep playing bigger. We hold ourselves back for so many reasons but most of them are made up by us! Changing it up can start small and still spark change.

      Thanks, Chris!


  8. Alli, I love the snail photo. Looks like the little guy is stretching to get some place new. It ties perfectly with your post.

    I must confess to being one of those “rut” people. I develop routines that I follow, sometimes, for way too long. The good side is the discipline that instills. However, a new perspective is in order from time to time.

    • Thanks, Dan! I’ve been known to order my favorite meal at my local restaurant over and over and over until one day, I change it up and discover that I enjoy it even more. Ruts happen to all of us, it’s the willingness to notice and stretch that makes all the difference.


  9. I love this concept. As someone who practices dangerous sports I’m all for getting outside my comfort zone. Unfortunately many people are afraid to dare, just in case it goes wrong or they are ‘seen’ to look silly. We need to recognise ‘out of comfort zone’ behaviours and help people make these into a habit.


    • Dave,

      Love how you put it: People are afraid to dare. Enough of that, right?! Thanks for adding that it’s hard initially but once we do it again (and again) it becomes a habit.


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