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I started out my career as a software engineer. Software doesn’t tend to be quite as elegant as other forms of machinery, but I totally get the concept that things are beautiful when they run efficiently and reliably.

That’s why I’ve found it amusing that my emphasis has shifted almost entirely to the “people side” of business. People are messy, unpredictably, and endlessly challenging.

I guess it’s because I’m a problem-solver at heart, and people offer an infinite array of problems to work on. Yet, we envision our businesses as that “well-oiled machine,” running like a top.

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Almost 4 million workers in the US quit their jobs in April 2021. That’s just stunning.

And, as we know, it’s a mixture of many job openings, people changing their career paths, and dissatisfaction with current situations. Workers are really rethinking their options right now.

As an employer, I assume that you’d like to keep your best people around. But there’s a problem:

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I want to express my appreciation for all of you who have stuck with me for so many years. I’ve been publishing a newsletter since 2010, and have received an incredible amount of support and valuable feedback.

Thank you.

And that’s the subject of this article, actually. Expressing thanks for the great work that people are doing, whether paid or not. This is something I’ve learned with leading volunteer groups, but just as important for my employees.

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2020 was so sad because of limitations on physical gatherings. I know many organizations which have cancelled holiday parties and celebrations as a result.

It’s the wrong way to think about it.

Sure, you can’t do what you’ve traditionally done, and it’s disappointing. But the real question is: what can you do with available resources?

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As I mentioned last week David Peterson is the Director of Executive Coaching & Leadership at Google.

He mentioned a phrase which stuck with me: “There’s no learning in the comfort zone, and there’s no comfort in the learning zone.” Last week I talked about the first part, today I’d like to focus on the second.

Why does learning push you out of your comfort zone?

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I had a chance to see a presentation by David Peterson recently; he’s the Director of Executive Coaching & Leadership at Google. And a brilliant coach!

He mentioned a phrase which stuck with me: “There’s no learning in the comfort zone.” There’s actually a second part of the statement, but I’m going to talk about that next week.

So why would the comfort zone be a place of no learning?

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You know how damaging this can be to a team: someone who is always critical, unsupportive, unacknowledging. It’s no surprise that people avoid them.

But here’s today’s challenge: What if YOU are that person? When you’re the leader, you set the tone for everyone’s attitude. Including how they view other organizations and the larger goals.

Yet you think of your role as keeping people on track, noticing problems and assigning jobs. Those are good and necessary things, for sure.

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I talk with employees all the time who are a bit lost on this concept of “mission.” They can’t bring anything to mind when I ask them what the mission of their company might be, and it doesn’t seem to have any relevance to their job even if there was one.

This is a problem.

Honestly, I don’t really care if you call it a purpose or mission or values or goal. I don’t mind if it doesn’t have a name at all. And I don’t care if it’s in highly refined words which precisely capture in a beautifully wordsmithed paragraph.

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Leadership is weird.

We’re stuck in this space of always striving, always reaching. Never satisfied with the status quo.

But that wears people out – physically, emotionally, intellectually. So what’s the difference between a leader who uses this effectively, versus just burning people out?

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I’m a member of a local organization of professional coaches. We recently had a very powerful meeting, and one of the attendees described it in a way which really stuck with me:

“An encouragement based community.”

In fact, that does describe how I feel about this group. More importantly, it got me thinking about how we often use “support” but not “encouragement.” In groups, communities, and the workplace.

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