As 2010 was slowly winding down last week, I read so many great articles about the hopes and aspirations people have for 2011.  I was reading a lot of interviews that magazines and blogs were having with corporate leaders.  From the many that I read, it appears that corporate leaders are cautiously optimistic about 2011.  They talked about their goals to invest again in new projects or expand their product lines or market segments. 

While I was filled with optimism at what I read, I couldn’t help but wonder how many leaders were looking inward & planning to make that same investment and expansion in themselves.  I wondered how many of them would test their abilities, experiment with failure & really reach outside their comfort zones.  I don’t mean, the typical little “corporate” reach which usually is a pretty safe bet.  I mean the really scary ones.  The ones for which you don’t have a roadmap, the ones that could make a significant impact to the bottom line,  the ones that no one is thinking of, the ones your team is dying for you to take on so they can show their brilliance.

When you get back into the office tomorrow, the daily rut will be there waiting for you, the daily challenges & problems you left behind in 2010 will greet you in 2011.  The circumstances of our daily corporate existence is a tough nut to crack.  It wants to envelope you & keep you focused on the same old thing you’ve focused on forever.  It’s not easy at all to experiment & get out of your comfort zone when you have to deal with these daily challenges, the detours that take you on a tangent & the obstacles that are commonplace in a corporate setting.  Those very things are the reasons many leaders don’t grow or really invest in their professional development.  I don’t mean attending a workshop or a conference.  I mean, going inward, taking stock of where you are as a leader & compare it to what will be needed by your team going forward.

I guarantee that when you take time to really look & evaluate yourself as a leader in today’s workplace,  you will be surprised by what you see.  I know that when I did that very same thing a few years back, I had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to update my leadership techniques.  Those techniques at which I had worked so hard to excel were quickly becoming outdated &  I simply had not realized it.  I was doing nothing to give my leadership techniques, prinicples & style a much needed update. Once I did, the results were amazing. I took baby steps but I made sure that everyday I was doing something outside my comfort zone.  Whether that was giving up some of the control to my team, or whether it was creating a lab where it was okay to fail as long as we were learning new things or whether it was joining forces with other teams to break down silos, I was outside my comfort zone A LOT. 

I had a choice as you do going into a brand new year, a brand new decade.  I could have chosen to allow the daily challenges I faced and the circumstances around me to get in my way. After all, it certainly wasn’t easy to get out of my comfort zone & I worked hard at it and I didn’t have a clearly illuminated path showing me the way.  But I did it anyway. Because to me the choice of staying in the status quo,  of leaving things the way they were, of going with the flow was a choice I could no longer live with.  As a leader, it was up to me to change, to get up to speed with a new workforce that was different than what we had in the past, in a world that is very different than the one where we learned the leadership skills we are so comfortable with today.

My hope for 2011 is that all corporate leaders choose discomfort over comfort.  I hope you choose experimentation over the sure thing.  I hope you choose change over leaving things the way they are because we need to change it.  Our future workforce needs us to guide them & show them how to lead in the 21st Century NOT the 20th Century.  There is a lot we can learn from our young workers but they need to learn so much from us and they want that more than anything.   Start small and build from there.  You will be surprised at how far a little discomfort will take you and your team in 2011.

Happy NEW Year everybody!!