10 tips to push past your leadership comfort zone: Women in IT Award winners share

This article originally featured on Enterprisers Project

6. Learn something new every day

Security Champion Of The Year

Monique Head, senior manager, Risk, Regulatory & Protection Services, PayPal: Successful IT leaders (especially in cybersecurity) know that adapting to change is necessary to stay ahead of the game. I personally and professionally enjoy cyber security. My interests are also evolving to include artificial intelligence and the implications this technology has on how we integrate ethics, fairness and accountability into technology, which is the next frontier. The hunger for knowledge will not allow you to rest in a comfort zone for too long.

The hunger for knowledge will not allow you to rest in a comfort zone for too long.
I have always held to the philosophy that each day one should strive to learn something new and embrace change in a responsible manner. On various levels we are all leaders – we are the leaders of our own lives and in how we approach each day. It may not be necessary to embrace every change we encounter, but we should be knowledgeable and understand the changes that affect our lives through research and investigation.

Change also includes reaching outside one’s comfort zone to include the opinions and views of those we might not normally interact with to get a diverse perspective. If you only associate or interact with those who are just like you, there is limited room to grow beyond a particular perspective. It is important to surround yourself with a variety of individuals to receive insight beyond what you think you know. This will help keep us flexible and adaptive to change to make good decisions for the many, not just the few.

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7. Be willing to pursue an unconventional career path

Future CIO of the Year

LeAnna Fries, senior IT product manager, Palo Alto Networks: After 14 years specialising in the space of health informatics, I knew I had arrived at a professional plateau in my IT career. Strategically reflecting on my right next step, I boldly decided to move on from my stable, preeminent senior leadership position at Stanford Health Care to proactively pursue new skills and knowledge related to current and emerging digital technology. Not only did I pivot industries to a role enabling cloud cybersecurity in high tech, but I also embraced a step down to advance my technological capabilities and gain a deeper, relevant digital fluency. This risk and resilience resulted in an extraordinary opportunity for me to join the Google Cloud Healthcare team, at the fortuitous intersection of my career-long, domain experience and my newly acquired skills and competencies! Sometimes you have to take a step back from a conventional career path, to make a transformational leap forward in your career journey.

Let’s face it — breaking out of your comfort zone is, by definition, uncomfortable. However, when you find yourself at a career plateau with limited growth opportunities, it is critical to consider making a courageous leap to advance your own professional development. To keep up with the pace of innovation, you may need to let go of past work achievements and heights, to let in the next generation of career possibilities. Consider the fact that the half-life of professional skills was five years, and now it is only two years; meaning that a skill is half as valuable and marketable as it was when originally gained. Prioritising continuous learning, up-skilling and re-skilling is not an option in our digital age — it’s an imperative.

8. Speak up and embrace discomfort when you feel it

Transformation Leader Of The Year

Alley Lyles, digital transformation manager, Alberta, Direct Energy: When I started my career, I rarely shared my ideas and opinions. As an introvert, I was timid and hesitant to challenge colleagues. Now, I am empowered to contribute. I voice opinions and embrace discomfort. I changed my approach. I know that when I do not speak up, I hear a nagging voice in my head when the project is released – all the “should’ves and would’ves.” It’s an awful feeling; it’s not worth it.

We’re fortunate to be in a field that changes rapidly. Nothing is boring. Our potential for success hangs on strategic, proactive moves. Accepting the norm and not acting with agility risks a company’s ability to grow. If you continue to wade in stagnation, then expect a recession.

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9. Pursue hobbies and interests that have nothing to do with your work

Rising Star Of The Year

Hayley Leibson, co-founder and COO, Lunchclub: Change only happens in discomfort. To practice becoming comfortable with breaking out of my comfort zone at work, I’ve done things outside of work that are radically different from my career to challenge myself physically and mentally. I studied to become a certified yoga instructor in the jungles of Costa Rica, trained to become a Le Cordon Bleu chef, and I studied to become a sommelier. Training for these random hobbies and interests that I know nothing about, helps me be more brave and take risks at work. It also allows my identity to not be solely defined by my career.

Becoming great at something often requires a learning mindset rather than substantial direct experience

Reframe your mindset from discomfort to curiosity and growth. Becoming great at something often requires a learning mindset rather than substantial direct experience. There is a freedom in being the student rather than the expert. Building great products is often less about experience and more about the ability to test, learn, and iterate. Having a beginner’s mind allows you to explore problems in new ways and not be trapped in a fixed way of thinking.

10. Seek out and build relationships with colleagues who have different life experiences

Diversity Initiative Of The Year

Chatelle Lynch, SVP and chief people officer, McAfee: An introvert by nature, I’m also a very passionate person who firmly believes “If you are comfortable, you aren’t growing.” As a leader, every team member brings value and all forms of diversity matter. I strive to be an advocate for inclusion and diversity in the workplace. With that, I recognise the importance of constantly being enriched by new perspectives and regularly breaking out of my comfort zone. I have become a stronger, more insightful leader by taking time to build intentional relationships on a deeper level; getting to know colleagues with different life experiences, perspectives, and beliefs than me.

Change can be challenging, but when we do things that push us beyond our comfort zone, we’re growing and becoming better versions of ourselves. Being reluctant to change sometimes stems back to pride, control, and a fear of the unknown. As a leader, think about how your willingness to try something new, something courageous, something never done before, inspires and motivates your team and others around you. Your actions can ultimately create an environment that nurtures and encourages a growth mindset and innovative approach, which could deliver you and your company never-seen-before results!

11. Gain a deep understanding of your customers’ challenges

Innovator of the Year

Ashley Ward, director, Information Systems, Mission Support Alliance: I have focused my time and energy on business areas I knew nothing about. When I first started in IT, I never thought I would be learning about the day-to-day operations of a water treatment plant. I do not believe we can truly make a difference with technology and meet customer needs if we do not understand our customer’s operations and challenges.

Related Topics

Women in IT Awards