Leading from Outside the Comfort Zone #5 #cong21


 I open with a vignette of my son, then aged 10, asking me earnestly ‘how do you get more confidence?’ I was a bit stumped by his question and replied ‘I don’t know, I think you have to do stuff that scares you so you feel better and stronger after it’. As I was saying this, I realised it’s about leaving the comfort zone and could recognise that I was far too comfortable so I set about changing that to set a better example.

From a background in HRTech, I framed most of my essay around uncomfortable questions we must ask ourselves in relation to our hiring practices such as genuine Diversity & Inclusion, mental health, workplace flexibility, and that nasty business of bullying. I concluded with some thoughts on leading by our actions and how one can also lead from behind.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Leaving the comfort zone can make you better and stronger. Leading from outside the comfort zone can make your followers better and stronger.
  2. Most workplace Diversity & Inclusion consists of 4th level educated full-time staff who happen to be a mix of colours and genders but are basically all the same. Let’s think about genuine Diversity & Inclusion, mental health, and workplace flexibility.
  3. How can we expect vulnerable children and teenagers to solve the bullying issue when adults can’t take decisive action to eradicate it in our workplaces?
  4. We can lead through our actions rather than slogans and oftentimes we can lead from behind.

About Joy Redmond:

Joy is a multipotentialite: marketer/mentor, web/ux pro, content purist, qual/quants geek, sporadic spin dr, founder @trustwordie @wtfisart @pendemic_ie, autism advocate, lifelong learner, wannabe playwright, open water swimmer and mother of 2 sons who are smarter, taller and swim faster than her.


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By Joy Redmond

I have a vivid memory of my son, then aged 10, sitting on his bed asking me earnestly ‘how do you get more confidence?’ I’ll admit I was a bit stumped by his question and replied ‘I don’t know, I think you have to do stuff that scares the bejaysus out of you so you feel better and stronger after it’. As I was saying this, I realised it’s about leaving the comfort zone and could recognise that I was far too comfortable so I set about changing that to set a better example. Since then, I’ve rowed to Wales, swam far out of my depth in violent open water races in raging seas, fjords and lakes, enrolled in a drawing/printmaking course that scares the wits out of my quants brain, poured my heart out and shared my soul through playwriting, started a few companies and changed careers more times than some people have hot dinners. That ten-year-old is now his university’s SU President so I think it worked!

While mulling over this year’s leadership topic, the concept of leading from outside the comfort zone returned to me. Here are just a few thoughts relating specifically to hiring practices given my interest and background.

Lead through inclusive hiring
To be honest Diversity & Inclusion is a bit of a bug bear of mine. Most companies I’ve worked in think they are doing pretty well on diversity. I look around and all I can see is a payroll full of 4th level educated people working full time who happen to be a mix of colours and genders. Let’s face it, they’re all the same. It’s about intersectionality baby. Shouldn’t we ask ourselves how many come from social disadvantage or disability?

While companies spend a fortune on wellness programmes for staff, you’d wonder how many have ever considered hiring somebody with a managed mental illness? One of the most beautiful and creative souls I ever knew left us a few years ago and part of me thinks it was because she couldn’t find her place. We all want meaningful work aligned with our skills. Too often highly intelligent, talented people find themselves in unskilled minimum waged work because of the fear / stigma of disclosing their mental health status in a ‘real’ job. Exceptionally high unemployment rates for people with disabilities are well documented. It’s hard to feel useful in an increasingly productive world.

Also, we must ask ourselves how many have real work flexibility? Since the pandemic, remote is on the agenda, which is great and about time but location is not the only form of work flexibility. Some of us with caring responsibilities or neurodivergence (or both in my case) can’t manage a 9-5 life but still have much to offer. There seems to be this assumption that good work can’t be done on a part-time basis, and I don’t mean a 4-day week. Rather than focusing on time spent, it’s way more efficient to focus on the deliverables. My most recent role involved generating one substantial piece of research per month and a few smaller case studies/presentations. The contract was for 8 days, which didn’t always fall into two days every week. My manager was less concerned with the when and I never missed a deadline, not even close. You can have specialists doing great work and the really great news is you pay less. Even better, passion isn’t pro rata.

Do you support a bully culture?
Every so often we hear about bullying in schools and on social media and it’s all this, that and the other. How can we expect improvements for vulnerable children and teenagers when adults can’t take decisive action to eradicate it in our workplaces? Why is the onus on the victim, whose confidence is in the toilet, to prove the wrongdoing? The task is often too daunting that they just slink away and move job so as not to ‘get a name’ and the perpetrator stays in situ, having won. Real leadership doesn’t put the company/party line before its people but creates a safe environment that calls out bad behaviour.

Lead through your actions not your slogans
If there is a value we feel strongly about, whether corporate or personal, then that must instruct ALL our actions even the micro decisions we make. For example, I am always amazed at the amount of start-up / shop local events that serve international food and drink brands – why aren’t you serving local craft beers/drinks and artisan food produce? Do you just think local but buy global? If you feel strongly about the environment, do you really need to photograph/video or share everything because the data centres hosting that not so necessary content burn through a lot of energy. Recently, I had a brief spat on Twitter with Dingle Aquarium wondering why, after we were warned of the evils of plastic and our throwaway culture throughout the tour, did they see find it appropriate to fill the giftshop with plastic tat. Just because something isn’t single use, it still doesn’t make it useful or necessary and will eventually end up in landfill. Sometimes on holidays, I give my sons a budget and say you can buy anything you want in this shop if you think you’ll still be using it in one month’s time. We don’t buy much.

You can lead from behind
We often assume the person at the front is the leader. I’m often the spokesperson for local community groups and campaigns but I simply parrot the work of a sterling committee who have done all the work. I’m merely the person with the media experience to talk on live radio. Other times I’m happy to stay in the shadows and see my work speak for itself.

So that’s my tuppence worth, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a leadership position, then please try to use your power to affect real change. Personally, I rarely look at captains of industry for inspiration. The people that inspire me are those quietly making a difference to other people’s actual lives and who, for the most part, did not come into this world with the privilege I’ve enjoyed. I won’t end on that #BeKind inanity but be better! We all can.

“For me, success is not a public thing. It’s a private thing. It’s when you have fewer and fewer regrets.”,

Toni Morrison

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