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How To Create A High-Growth Team By Embracing Discomfort

This article was based on episode 121 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get $100 off EcSell’s Leadership Training Academy when you become a member at

What if I told you that great managers create discomfort. This idea sounded suspect to me until I spoke with Bill Eckstrom. After studying over 150,000 coaching interactions in workplaces around the world, Bill found that the best leaders and coaches were those who could foster a healthy sense of discomfort in the workplace. That’s because growth only comes while in a state of discomfort.

Bill is the founder and CEO of EcSell Institute, the world’s first and only organization to measure and quantify leadership effectiveness. He is considered one of the world’s top authorities in metric-based performance coaching and growth. Bill shares with us here what healthy discomfort in the workplace means, why it’s necessary for growth, and how to effectively challenge your team by putting them in situations that make them uncomfortable.


It’s no surprise that most people gravitate towards familiarity and comfort. Because of this, managers must challenge their teams to operate differently. We need to gently push them into unknown territory with unknown outcomes, causing healthy discomfort. Some ways growth-minded managers challenge their teams includes asking them to learn new skills, improve their existing skills, and take on new opportunities.

Bill describes four basic environments that promote or hinder growth, which he calls “growth rings”. These rings include:

  • Stagnation: low performing or negative growth environment

  • Order: predictable inputs and outcomes

  • Complexity: an unpredictable environment where the inputs are known but the outcomes are unknown

  • Chaos: an environment of little to no control where growth is halted by high turmoil

Subconsciously, we all crave to be in the order ring, because it’s predictable and therefore most comfortable. Yet, the optimal work environment is actually one of complexity. Although it’s unpredictable, ultimately results in growth which is critical to ongoing success.


Educate Your Team About The Value Of Discomfort and Change

When we realize that discomfort is not just a vulnerable, unstable feeling but actually a necessary experience for growth, we stop associating discomfort as a roadblock to be avoided and instead see it as an opportunity. When our teams are educated on the power of discomfort, they feel more encouraged to embrace it.

Build Resilience for Discomfort

The more discomfort we create for our brains, the more change resilient we become. By practicing small ways to be uncomfortable, we train our neuro system to deal with different or unexpected situations. Even small actions, like tying your opposite shoe first or threading your belt through the opposite direction, help develop our stamina.

Link Discomfort with Success

Have open conversations with your team members about different times in their lives when they experienced challenges and ultimately benefited from that discomfort. Linking present experiences with past triumphs calms employees’ nerves in their process of growth.

Let Go And Let Them Struggle

It can be uncomfortable for a manager to watch her employee struggle. Managers themselves need to embrace complexity and the discomfort of the unknown as their team members work on their skills or take on new challenges. The process might be slower and bumpier than expected. They may ask for more help than anticipated. They even may end up failing. As Bill reminds us, there’s just as much growth through failure as there is in success. Exponential growth can only happen when we step aside and let our team members learn for themselves.

Create A Foundation of Order

While growth is essential, we can’t survive in a constant state of discomfort and stress. By establishing order and structure in the workplace, managers provide a solid, reliable foundation. Weekly meetings, balanced budgets, things with predictable outcomes bring a healthy order to business. This allows people to enter times of discomfort and tolerate it well.

Balance Order and Complexity Specific to Each Person

Finding the optimal balance is unique to each person and situation. Because our capacity for growth and discomfort is impacted by many factors such as other work demands, home life, and sleep, it’s important to discuss with each employee how much discomfort they think they can handle at that moment. It’s OK to have times when people need to focus on the tasks and skills they already know.


You may have heard that a manager’s job is to remove obstacles so their team can perform its best. Bill offers an alternative perspective. The role of a manager is to teach our team members how to remove obstacles for themselves. We are so attracted to the comfort of order and familiarity that we often avoid putting ourselves or others in situations where we are challenged. But that doesn’t help anyone. By embracing complexity, we unleash potential. As uncomfortable as it may be, the truth is growth only comes through discomfort.


Get $100 off EcSell’s Leadership Training Academy when you become a member at

This article was based on episode 121 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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