What is true and real about today’s leadership is that working to develop yourself alongside getting your job done is both challenging and uncomfortable. With the complexity and unpredictability of the current business landscape, being in discomfort feels different for everyone; manifesting in unique ways. Leaders are having to double down on their commitment to change, achieve their visions and do the work of growing themselves through their work. This is a high bar.

During times of uncertainty, we lose the stability of “knowing,” or predictability. This can make us revert to what’s worked in the past to navigate through current circumstances. At the extreme, we only must look at high-profile CEOs who, under pressure for business performance, often make rash decisions that leave their companies in chaos. Simply put, leaning heavily into command-and-control leadership models does not work for today’s environment.

Let’s Flip the Script on Negative Emotions

In many workplaces where systems of power are at play, leaders are taught to suppress what are deemed as “negative” emotions. Internal narratives can weigh heavily on leaders, leaving them wondering, “Will my role be safe if I show vulnerability? How will I ever get that promotion if people think I am not in control? How will my team respect me if I don’t have the answers?” Historically, workplace systems have deemed leadership roles as very binary — leaders should be in control of outcomes and will either get things wrong or right. Thus, being in discomfort puts leaders somewhere in the middle, and without being able to voice discomfort, fear manifests.

In the book, “The Power of Emotions at Work,” author Karla McLaren explains that what are deemed as negative emotions are powerful signals that a shift in orientation to our environment is needed.

Discomfort and fear are intuitive responses to the situation we’re in, giving us the information that we need to deal with the challenges we face through adapting and changing. The tendency to stay in a pattern of comfort is strong, and change is hard, so it can get in the way of us creating new outcomes and learnings from the information we’re emotionally receiving. So, let’s flip the script.

In reality, there should be measurable levels of discomfort; leaders are change makers and need to be attuned to the change that is occurring and what needs to change. We map this to responsibility. Leaders then need to build capacity to engage in the age old clichés, “get out of your comfort zone,” and “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Without a playbook to fall back on, discomfort can be a powerful enabler. The saying, “you can only manage what you can measure” doesn’t allow us to navigate increasingly unmeasurable and unpredictable conditions. Discomfort makes us present, in the moment, and ultimately opens us up to a huge resource of creative energy to navigate the situation we find ourselves in. We all have discomfort when we face “firsts” and high-risk circumstances. The decisions you make, and how you make them, impact both you and your team, and “getting it right” can weigh heavy on leaders. Discomfort is a totally normal and appropriate response to the level of complexity we’re facing today and instead of pushing it aside, let’s step right into the center of it and listen to what it’s informing us.

Creating a Capacity Culture for Complexity

For decades leaders have been investing in building competencies — specific skills, subject matter expertise, practices, processes and knowledge. We call this horizontal development.

So, as our world increases in complexity, using these same skills alone simply doesn’t cut it; we need a more sophisticated way of leading. While competencies are absolutely needed, “skilling up” is not enough for the size of the problems we’re facing today. One of the challenges is that organizations can be focused on training people to be more effective at applying processes, which isn’t scalable.

We need to build the capacity for complex ways of thinking and therefore create the ability to gain greater insights and new perspectives. We call this vertical development. By developing both competency and capacity we can be truly present and live in the moment of the challenges. Leaders need to engage in development that takes them beyond ordinary skills. Simply put, we can’t solve a vertical problem with a horizontal solution.

Creating a capacity culture within teams enables them to bring wholeness and intuition to the workplace, to have the ability to develop and keep refining their skills and be present in the moment as they work through the challenges, without the fear of voicing their opinions. It requires will, agility and intelligence. This is different to knowledge, as it’s a larger intelligence that works with instinct, and enables us to respond, engage and trust the unfolding of a situation, rather than only trusting a process. The opportunity for individual and team learning becomes vast. The marriage of competency and capacity creates a powerful combination to tackle complexity head on, making us more effective.

Team Dynamics and the Relationship To Self

Team dynamics are often complex. If we can understand and accept the layers within ourselves, as multifaceted leaders and individuals, it frames our ability to identify and accept different dimensions in others. There are two foundational qualities to the relationship to self: self-acceptance and self-authority.

Through self-acceptance we can then author our story and experiences and gain empowerment around choice. Self-authority enables us to engage, activate and explore, to develop and nurture our leadership and take it to the teams we work with.

It certainly doesn’t mean we have all the answers, but by choosing to take the life-long path to discover self, intentionally, it opens the pathway for rich personal growth for leaders and their teams.