I often blog about the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone, of taking calculated risks. In this post last year – Does risk-taking scare you? – I wrote about the farmer who was asked whether he planted wheat for the season. Today’s blog post takes this idea further, and it was prompted by what I did last weekend.
Naked bungee jumping for charity!
Last weekend, I volunteered at a naked bungee jumping charity event hosted by WildPlay Element Parks, a North American chain of outdoor recreation parks that feature, in addition to bungee jumping, high-ropes and obstacle climbing, swinging, ziplining and a variety of other treetop activities. This annual event is now in its 16th year, raising funds for mental wellness programs (through Mental Health Recovery Partners) on Vancouver Island, which is where I live. Now before you go too far down a specific train of thought, I must clarify that I wasn’t participating in the naked bungee jumping 😊, I was fully-clothed while I managed the registration and check-in desk.
But, during the course of this sold-out event, I was fortunate to talk to many of the 160 participants and find out more about why they chose to attach themselves to a giant elastic cord, step off the edge of a bridge, free-fall over 150 ft, rebound several times, and if that wasn’t enough, do it in the buff. The reasons were varied – ranging all the way from “I’m jumping in honour of a loved one” to “I’m recovering from mental, emotional or physical trauma, and this is one way in which I can take control of my life”. The most common response I heard however – “I wanted to do something that would take me waaaay outside my comfort zone, and this is it”.
What does it take to get people to step outside their comfort zone?
As I watched, many of these individuals climbed to the top of the jump bridge, and then, as the realization of what they were about to do became more real, they started to hesitate. Agonizing minutes later, as they made their way to the edge of the sheer drop and their knuckles grew white from gripping the metal railings, there was no doubt in my mind that many had begun to question their own sanity.
It was what happened in those nervous minutes between ascending the bridge and making the jump that warmed my heart. The more nervous the person was, the more support they received. Friends, family and perfect strangers shouted out encouragement from the sidelines – “You can do it,” “You’ve got this,” “You’re courageous” were just some of what I heard. I listened to the jump crew offer last minute instructions and comforting advice at the top of the bridge. I saw the jump master quietly talk the participant through the moments of panic just before the jump. I grinned and joined in when spectators broke into loud applause just after the jump. And I watched while people congratulated the jumper later – the more nervous they’d been, the more acknowledgements they seemed to receive.
What is the lesson for leaders?
As leaders, we often push our people to step outside their comfort zone. We are pleased when they do, and frequently frustrated when they don’t. But I wonder if we realize how much our support and encouragement can matter. Do we cheer and urge them on? Do we offer comforting advice as they take unfamiliar steps? Are we there to talk them through the difficult moments? Do we applaud them when they finally take the jump? And do we acknowledge and recognize them when all is done? I hope so. Because if there is one thing my volunteer shift at the naked bungee jumping event taught me, it is that reassurance and praise matter.
If we want our employees to step outside their comfort zone (whether at work or elsewhere), then we need to be cheerleaders, teachers, allies, advocates, and champions, and sometimes all at the same time. If leaders want to create an innovative, resourceful, and forward-thinking work culture, then they need to support and encourage their people to make change happen.
So, are you creating a workplace culture in which people can successfully step outside their comfort zones? Are you supportive and encouraging to make change happen? I’d love to hear about your experiences, either as a leader, or about a leader you know? Please share your thoughts by commenting below.