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Avoid the Comfort Zone! Two Simple Questions to Add Value to Your Leadership

By Aaron Butler, Ph.D. - November 20, 2023

Score another one for old-school leaders! The Texas Rangers just won their first World Series championship in franchise history earlier this month. They’ve been to the playoffs many times and even made it to the World Series twice before, but always came up short until this year.  So what was different this time? Was it their new state of the art home stadium? How about their use of cutting-edge data analytics? Or maybe it was the high-tech training and wellness facilities for their players?  Maybe all of those things played a part, but I have another thought. Maybe it was their new manager Bruce Bochy?  

If you don’t follow baseball, calling Bruce Bochy a new manager is a bit misleading. He may have been new to the Rangers this season, but he was a major league manager for 25 years before he came to Texas and had already won three World Series titles. However, in 2019 he retired as a manager. He’d enjoyed a long, successful career and had earned a break. 

Leadership is tough. It doesn’t matter if it’s a baseball team or school district or whether you’re a manager or superintendent. The demands on your time and attention exist and you are counted on to guide others and make decisions. Sustaining success in an organization for the long-term is even harder.  Although leadership is very rewarding, it can also be exhausting and lead to the need for a break, like Bruce Bochy took in 2019.  However, there’s something that many great leaders like Bruce Bochy realize might be even worse than being exhausted. Being too comfortable. 

Now, you may be thinking, “Wait. Did I read that correctly? How can being comfortable be worse than being exhausted for a leader?”     

Well, after three years on the sidelines, Bruce Bochy realized that he missed serving in the leadership role of a major league manager. When the Texas Rangers were looking for a fresh voice to help lead them for the 2023 season, Bruce jumped at the chance to get back into the exhausting 9 ½ month grind of a baseball season. 

Although he was only out of baseball for three seasons, a lot had changed. The decision-making roles of managers had been diminished. Many teams were relying more on analytics and trend data to make decisions before and during games. Some people wondered how an “old-school” manager like Bruce Bochy would fit in. Would he accept this new decision-making role for a manager? Would he rely on his more traditional methods?  The answer was “Yes and Yes” and it can serve as a great lesson for leaders like you and me. 

Watching how Bruce Bochy and his coaching staff helped the Rangers players navigate the regular season and playoffs was a lot fun. It was apparent to me that Bruce had not spent his 3 seasons in retirement just playing golf or fishing. He had taken the time to stay current on the latest trends in the game and was open to using them. However, he also didn’t forget what 25 years of managerial experience had taught him either.  He didn’t stay in a comfort zone. He worked on growing his own skills while also working to grow his coaches and players too. His approach this season made me think of two simple questions that I ask myself and that I encourage leaders that I coach to reflect on every week.   

  • How did I add value to myself? 

  • How did I add value to my team? 

I have always found these two questions to be simple, yet powerful, for leaders. Just take 30 minutes or so each week to ask yourself these questions or, even better, have a conversation with a peer or your leadership team. I believe that if you can consistently answer these questions in a positive way your school, district, or organization will stay out of that dangerous “comfort zone” and keep growing and improving.  

Adding Value to Myself 

There are a lot of ways to add value to yourself as a leader including reading books, listening to podcasts, taking courses, and the list goes on. I’m sure you have engaged in many of these activities during your leadership journey. However, sometimes even the best of us get too busy or too comfortable with the daily rhythms of leadership to prioritize our own growth. If you find yourself in a similar rut, consider these two ideas to add value to yourself. 

  1. Learn about a leader that you’ve never studied before.   Exploring leadership in different fields or different time periods can help bring fresh perspective to your work. Ask yourself, “What is one thing I can learn from this leader?”  

  1. Revisit some of the leadership resources that inspired you in the past. Although it’s good to stay on top of the latest trends and research, it’s also helpful to strengthen your leadership foundation. Bruce Bochy embraced the latest trends, but still trusted the approach that helped him win his first three championships.  Ask yourself – “What is a leadership book or resource that I haven’t read in while?” 

Adding Value to Your Team 

This one might be harder than it sounds on the surface. As leaders, we’re often looking to get the most value “out of” instead of “in to” our teams. We are focused on implementing programs, meeting deadlines, and producing new things. We can’t do it alone, so we lead our teams to accomplish well intentioned goals. That is why it’s important to remember that leadership is about people, not programs.  Consider these ways to add value to your team members next week. 

  1. Invest Your Time. Time is precious for you and members of your team. When you spend time coaching, mentoring, or providing feedback to others, it shows that you value their time and effort; and you’re willing to back it up by dedicating your most valuable resource. 

  1. Put it in Writing. There are not enough hours in a day to spend 1 on 1 time with every team member every week. However, you can share your thoughts, knowledge, and even celebrate successes through regular communication with your team. Weekly newsletters, emails, or even video clips, when kept concise and focused, can reinforce your belief in your team members and show how important they are to you.   

Although most of us will never lead a major league baseball team to World Series victory, that doesn’t mean our leadership journey is too different from those who do. We can learn a lot from leaders like Bruce Bochy with their reputations for shunning the comfortable option and investing in themselves and others to accomplish big goals.  

I encourage you to schedule time each week to reflect on these two simple questions. Keep a journal to document how you are answering them throughout the year. And, if you notice that your answers seem to be on repeat or a predictable pattern every week, then consider the ideas I’ve shared and even find others to help you move beyond that comfort zone.  Play ball! 

Aaron R. Butler, PhD, is a former high school math and science teacher and school administrator. He now serves as the director for the Region 9 Comprehensive Center and a principal technical assistance consultant at the American Institutes for Research. Dr. Butler has more than 20 years of experience supporting school improvement in public education spanning school, district, state, and national levels.

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay