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I’ve been watching with interest the negative attention given to business jargon recently. I would have said ‘watched with amusement’ but use of terms such as ‘demising’ is far from funny. I won’t rehearse the usual suspects; we all know who and what they are.

But one of the less offensive, albeit less current terms is that of ‘operating outside one’s comfort zone’. This one resonates with me personally. It represents a sense of challenge and it has a focus on personal responsibility: ‘I define what constitutes my comfort zone; I determine what action I need to take and consequently, I determine how far out of my personal zone I choose to travel’.

Do you ever sail outside your comfort zone?

Personal revelation time. In many respects, I am, in Myers-Briggs types, the archetypal ISTJ.  But I tend to think of myself more accurately as an ‘Introvert with Glaswegian tendencies’.

Occasionally, I have strong views and a well developed sense of equity and fairness and common sense. That coupled with possession of a decent sized mouth which I’m capable of using, overcomes a strong tendency towards introversion and a quiet disposition.

In that context, I’ve taken the notion of operating outside my own comfort zone to heart. Earlier in my career when I was reluctant to deliver presentations, I became a part-time lecturer at a further education college on employment relations and employment law. In addition to strengthening my subject matter knowledge, this caused me to develop and refine my delivery style while engaging with groups of around 30 students at a time.

Keep sailing on

At a later point, I concluded that I wasn’t being as effective as I should be in meeting settings and decided that I needed to push myself into more prominent positions and force myself to contribute more. Within my then pharmaceutical sector employer, I became chair of the scientific procedures ethics committee (which was highly unusual for a non-scientist). I also became chair of the quality issues committee, which was geared towards cross-functional working – making savings and efficiencies while generally promoting a quality agenda.

Neither subject matter was an obvious core topic for me and it forced me in to new learnings and to consider how, as chair, I could harness the expertise and knowledge within the respective committees, while utilising my own skills in a more active and engaging way.

Growth comes from pushing yourself

At the time, neither initially felt like a comfortable experience but in time I genuinely benefited from the opportunities and those experiences proved to be an excellent foundation for later years and different roles.

I hope, particularly in the early stages of this new year, at a time when hope and optimism is still very much present, you will each consider what represents your own comfort zone and promptly determine how you will stray outside of them, pushing yourself into uncomfortable but challenging waters.

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Written by Gary Brewer, global head of reward & OD, William Grant & Sons

Gary Brewer is global head of reward & OD for William Grant & Sons. He has formerly held lead HR roles across the Pharmaceutical, Financial Services, Media, Transport and Public Sectors. A Fellow of the CIPD, Gary is currently an Employment Tribunal member and has also held various Board and Consultancy appointments.

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