Staying in our comfort zone kills our potential

Alex Staniforth, Motivational Keynote Speaker, Author, Ambassador & Director of Mind Over Mountains, tells us more about his definition of success and failure. The expert will participate to this year’s digital edition of Human Capital Europe and will virtually take the stage on November 26th at 9:40am, with a presentation entitled "Reaching Unclimbed Peaks: why staying at base camp kills our potential"

What does "success" mean? What about "failures" and why are they crucial?
Success means something different to everyone. In the simplest form many would assume it to be reaching a planned objective - the summit of a mountain is a typical example. But what about the roadblocks, and the factors beyond all reasonable control? Sometimes these planned objectives are no longer reachable, so, does success also fall out of reach? I’d like to propose success as a process rather than the outcome alone. Does failure become a final destination? These roadblocks are crucial in forcing us to innovate, take unexplored paths and widen our experiences – avoiding failure deprives us of this opportunity to learn and grow. Fundamentally, confronting these ‘failures’ and using them to achieve a new objective instead makes failure a very positive and successful experience.

Can you tell us more about your professional career and how you dealt with success and failures from the start? How did those "concepts" evolve over time?
My professional speaking and writing career was underpinned by an attempt to climb to the summit of Mount Everest whilst aged just 18 years old. I was naïve enough to assume that success and effort were co-dependent, and whilst effort and hard work are essential for reaching objectives, this belief doesn’t account for the factors beyond our control. A major avalanche and then an earthquake thwarted both of my attempts. COVID-19 is another key example that we have all had to navigate.
Accepting that failure can be inevitable allowed me to overcome my fear of failing, by knowing that ultimately my chosen response determined the final outcome. By choosing a proactive response I could view these ‘failures’ as simply another opportunity to win. I also started to find the process of continually achieving objectives in mountaineering and endurance sports were short-lived. The true concept of success began to emerge, where achieving objectives simply became action steps towards realising a greater vision and purpose, rather than an end goal itself. For me this was in serving others, and it inspired me to create a new mental health charity, Mind Over Mountains. Having a massive goal allows us to make continual progress aligned with our values, even if it may not be measurable or fully attainable.

Why should employees get out of their comfort zone? What can it bring to the company?
Staying in our comfort zone kills our potential. We are naturally programmed to follow the line of least resistance as a survival mechanism, with specific behaviours further reinforced by previous successful results. But this sense of safety prevents innovation and discovering hidden potential that only comes from breaking the trail of repeated processes. When employees go beyond this comfort zone they will nurture their self-confidence, personal resilience and independence which can only be beneficial for an organisation and fully realising their potential within their role. By pushing their own boundaries they will be more willing to risk failure, achieve bigger results and increase their own satisfaction and commitment to the company. They will motivate colleagues around them too and as they become more independent, require less time and input from their managers and leaders. 

On the other hand, how can HR managers push their employees to push the boundaries of their skills?
Employees need to feel safe and supported to take that leap, and that starts by building a safety net they can fall back to, such as individual support from their manager and perhaps allowing certain roles and projects to be delegated elsewhere to create the necessary space for trying something new. Having a positive culture towards failure is also key, so that employees aren’t discouraged by potential ramifications. Building this acceptance of failure across the company needs to be communicated from the top down, so that all members of the team feel able to celebrate their ‘failures’. Ultimately managers need to acknowledge and reward positive results and behaviours to motivate change. It’s likely that once the employee discovers these new skills and takes ownership, they will become more intrinsically motivated to keep challenging themselves. 

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