03/28/2012 05:34 pm ET Updated May 28, 2012

Breaking Through Your Leadership Comfort Zone

It wasn't until I went through intense sales training that I learned about the difference between my self-identity as a person and my role as a sales professional. The greater my healthy self-identity, the greater my ability to handle challenging circumstances in the sales process.

As I saw myself more and more as a "10" with my self-identity, the easier it was for me to put my role performance as a sales professional in perspective. I may have conducted a lousy sales call on a given day but it wouldn't affect my self-identity. I was able to separate my self-identity from this particular role or any other role (spouse, partner, son, brother, etc.).

I've seen the same dynamic in my leadership coaching clients: his or her ability to raise their game as a leader is directly linked to their degree of healthy self-identity. He or she may find himself or herself in a particular situation where they end up performing their role as leader at a 5 level but it doesn't change their self-identity. Conversely, if your self-identity is at a 5 level, you can't help but perform your leader role at a 5 level. Here's why.

Whatever level you rate your self-identity, it follows that you are comfortable operating at one level above and below that score. This range is your comfort zone. Let's say you rate yourself self-identity at a 6 level. Your comfort zone is 5 to 7. You nail a particular situation in your role as a leader -- let's give you a 10. So even though you did very well, it's out of your comfort zone. You say to yourself, "I'm good but not that good." Sooner than later you will scale back your abilities to fall within your comfort zone. You undermine your best intentions. You are your own worse enemy.

Here's a test. If you can't confidently say "yes" to every one of these statements, work backwards to your self-identity. Uncover those self-perceptions that are getting in your way to rating your self-identity at a 10 level.

  • I can manage people who have a technical expertise I don't have.
  • I don't need to know everything about a situation before I can figure out what to do.
  • I can confront a peer, boss, or direct report with minimal stress and preparation.
  • I seek out opportunities with people at the highest level in my company.
  • I have a concrete and measurable plan to develop my myself as a leader, my people and department.
  • I am not bothered when people question my decision or approach.

Acknowledgement goes to the Sandler Sales Training program for these valuable insights.