Good-bye Comfort Zone Re-Post
Apparently Visibility and Vulnerability are words for this year because on Wednesday this week I attended my first of many Performance Leadership (PL) classes. PL is a professional development class the university runs for mid-level managers — typically staff, which means it is a class full of just about everybody from dining services, business operations, engineering and agriculture extension programs and me. We meet every other Wednesday between now and June, and I am ridiculously excited about this class. At the end of day one I told our facilitator that I was sitting there thinking, “How do I get this job?” She said that as I presented she was thinking I would be good at it. I have no career change in mind just yet, but it is nice to see something else I think I would enjoy.
Half of it is just being in a class environment again, even if it is this kind of training class. It would be impossible for you to over-estimate how hard it was for me doing my dissertation alone and not in a classroom environment. (Yes, part of the point of dissertation writing is learning to work on your own, but for me … it sucked. I like to talk through ideas.) I was so excited for this class that I made a 3-ring binder to keep my materials, got a new notebook and special pens. Then, I got to class and at every seat was a 3-ring binder. I felt more than a little silly and Lisa Simpson-esque. By the end of the day my table mates were giving me a hard time … “Of course you‘ve done the pre-reading” kind of stuff. In their defense, by that time I’d also volunteered to go first for an activity. Basically, I brought the teasing on myself – and it really was good-natured.
Seriously though, as much as I love the classroom environment (meeting new people, learning about them, sharing ideas), just being in this class is a step outside comfortable for me. While I have often found myself in leadership roles, it has never been something I embraced (or cultivated) about myself. I was raised in an environment where I was constantly reminded not to “get above” myself. Since I also have an ingrained respect for leaders labeling myself as one by participating in this class triggers all the insecurities that go with “getting above myself.”
Unsurprisingly, taking this course feels a little like reaching above my station, but then pretty much everything I have ever done has felt like that. As long as I can remember my mother has called me “Champagne,” and talked about how I have champagne-taste on a beer budget. She’s even gone so far as to make the overt comparison that I am champagne and she is beer. So, I guess I come by this disconnected, over-reaching feeling honestly. It shouldn’t surprise me that — despite the fact that my parents have both been managers/leaders of a sort — head housekeeper, lead mechanic, bar manager, shop foreman, — sitting in a management class learning about leadership feels a little strange.
Now, having stepped out of that comfort zone and admitted that I am leading people — and that I want to develop that skill — every part of this class that will push me is just that much farther away from safety/comfort. In fact, one of the first things we have to do is giving me hives just thinking about it. Sometime in the next week or two I have to send an email to my bosses, peers, and employees, and anyone else I can think of asking them to complete a review of me. Their review is completely confidential. The facilitators of the program gather the responses and compile them into a report that I will go over with my leadership coach. Sure, I understand how this information is necessary and will help me, but I am quite afraid to hear what other people think of me.
Vulnerable sounds like just about the right word for how I will be feeling all semester.