The Difference-Maker Leader #3: In the Arena


The comfort zone is perhaps the most dangerous place for a leader. It’s the place where dreams die. It’s the place where nothing changes. Sure, there are perks to the comfort zone: fewer headaches, less risk, and no heart-stopping moments of panic. But there’s also no growth. A difference-maker leader does not spring from the comfort zone, but is borne by trial and error, risk and reward.

The difference-maker leader is a thought leader and go-getter, someone who is able to overcome the fear of the unknown, step out in courage, enjoy new experiences, and experience energy and growth as a result of them. A difference-maker leader leads from the front lines, changes the landscape of discussions and ideas, shapes expectations, and drives movement into new arenas.

It’s impossible to lead others in that way when you’re comfortably tucked away where you’ve always been. You must have firsthand knowledge of the lessons you will teach as you lead others. If you never do, you’ll never know…and you cannot lead. There must be victories and skinned knees.

It isn’t wrong to feel afraid. Inhibitions and nervous energy are natural. From the moment of birth, human beings learn about danger and discomfort and have a natural tendency to avoid those things. But when fear begins to get in the way of your success or your leadership capabilities, you’ve got to overcome it.

Recently, while reading the biography of Theodore Roosevelt I came across a quote that has had a profound impact on me personally. The speech from where the quote is taken was titled Citizenship in a Republic and given in 1910. The quote is best known as “The Man in The Arena” and speaks to the heart of being outside your comfort zone.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. –Teddy Roosevelt
4 Steps from the Comfort Zone to Greater Leadership

1. Ignore the Critic. Most of us, if we examined our motives honestly, would have to admit that it’s often concern over what people think of us that paralyzes us. Heaven forbid someone think we’re weird, annoying, or worse a failure. But, if you take a chance and succeed, people will respect you. If you take a chance and fail, people will love you all the more. And, in the end, who cares? You’re not trying to win votes; you’re living on purpose like a difference-maker leader.

2. Acknowledge Strong People Stumble. Accept that failure is inevitable. There will come a time that you’ll put yourself on the line and you’ll fail. Is a perceived failure ever completely worthless? When you’re down about something you think went wrong, look for the positives. There is always, always something positive within skinned knee experience. The key with difference-maker leaders is they find the learning, make adjustments, and continue to move forward. NOTE: True difference-maker leaders pick others up when they stumble and have someone to help pick them up when they stumble as well.

3. Dare Greatly. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason, and unless you take risks, that’s where you’ll be. Ask any successful entrepreneur or public figure–they will tell you that their journey was one risk after another. You cannot get to where you want to go unless you take a chance, you must dare greatly! Without daring greatly you will end up with “those cold and timid souls that know neither victory nor defeat.”

4, Celebrate the Arena. The more you step out and try new things, the more you will crave new adventures. You will become invigorated and energized by the power of exploration in the arena of LIFE. Those experiences will begin to define you and will shape you into the difference-maker leader you know you are.

Is it easy?
No. You need to understand what it means to step into the arena. Recently, I posted this tweet to my Twitter feed:

I know firsthand that it’s not easy to lay everything on the table and expose yourself that way. I’ve suffered under the fear of failure or embarrassment more times that I’d care to count. But I’ve also reaped the rewards that only come from pressing through and being vulnerable. I’ve seen the amazing results of taking chances, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now, the key to being a difference-maker leader is to take what you’ve learned and share it with others in both word and deed. How can you inspire someone else to live life fully in the arena? But, first, what’s on your own horizon? What’s holding you back? Today is the day to step out into the world of risk and embrace it. Today is your day to Dare Greatly!