The Stretch Zone, Deep Learning from the Inside-Out

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Richard, COO at a financial services organisation. We first met ten years ago on a talent and leadership programme where I was lead facilitator. This week our conversation was specifically about The Stretch Zone, a set of insights, principles and practices that enable deep learning from the inside-out, wondering what difference it made ten years later. This is part of his story, the very human story we all share as we overcome the biggest impediment to our talents and potential – oneself.

The Stretch Zone developed out of 10 years coaching within talent and leadership. These capable high performers were brimming with talent, yet under pressure they were holding themselves back unnecessarily. When asked the burning issue was confidence – and that was as much with people who would be described as hugely confident as it was people who clearly lacked confidence. Everyone has a stretch zone and confidence is an issue for everyone who has the courage to step outside their comfort zone.

Reflecting back Richard said: ‘I think my career was stalled, it was me stalling it to a large extent, feeling limited, feeling not able to progress, feeling stuck. I was plodding along’.

In 2006, no different to the rest of the group, Richard was brimming of untapped talent and potential, it only needed the right impulse to make a difference over the years to come, to spark his transition into executive leadership.

Referring to The Stretch Zone he said: ‘It was an insight into something new, something challenging, exciting – it was opening up a whole world, breaking through these levels of self-restriction’. It was a catalyst, ‘a spark to understand yourself – what makes you tick’.

In 2006 Richard’s stretch zone was with senior executives where his confidence would dip when he needed it most, undermining his impact. Rather than the well-worn path of confidence boosting hype The Stretch Zone inspires us to channel our efforts and energy differently, enabling a natural confidence from within – and coming from within it is authentic and congruent.

Confidence is not the problem. It is our natural state. Fear is also not the problem. It is a gift of intense energy only waiting to be channelled constructively. The problem is doubt, which channels that intense energy in self-defeating ways.

Eight years later the difference was still evident. ‘Just before I left Barclays I presented to about 100 executives and delivered in a way that I would have hoped. I was aware that I was in control. I wasn’t trying to force anything. Once I was up there I stepped completely through the fear. I still have periods where I doubt myself but now I’m able to anchor myself and turn it around’.

‘There are people who try to be confident and deep down they are completely lacking in confidence, it is shallow and transient. It can lead to the wrong aggressive behaviours and it is a lack of confidence that drives it’.

The Stretch Zone enables ‘the realisation that these mental barriers are not you. We not only create them, we breed them, care for them. Ego-based confidence is a façade, it is something you know is not you, it is very short-term.’

Rather than a façade of pseudo-confidence over suppressed fear and doubt, congruent confidence is when ‘people feel more comfortable with themselves rather than trying to put on a façade’.

When asked about The Stretch Zone’s impact on how he leads his people he said: ‘I say to my team if you’re playing with confidence then I’ll get so much more out of you. If you’re not then I have to take some responsibility. Confidence goes up and down. It is trying to iron out those dips. Barriers are unique to each of us. We tend to keep them from other people. We don’t like to admit what our barriers are and it comes back to confidence. If you want people to play with confidence you need to help them explore what is getting in the way’.

Beyond the self-limiting barriers ‘there is actually a lot more capability. Rather than adding new skills it is about removing old barriers and letting go of that fear and the next step is actually quite easy’.

Reflecting on organisational learning Richard said: ‘Clearly organisations would benefit significantly having people wakening up to themselves. If you’re going to make a step change, your people are going to make the step change for you, you’ll have to let go of the old ways of thinking. It needs an organisation to say we’re going to build this around people, genuinely, and I’m not sure there are many out there doing that.’ Everyday this very human story plays out in organisations as people hold back their potential under pressure. When organisations help people step across the threshold of their stretch zone, inspiring others to do likewise, they create a culture of achievement from the inside-out.

Confidence is not limited by personality, it only looks and sounds different – and difference does not mean absence.

Talk to us at ConsultF5 today to find out more about The Stretch Zone including our signature talk, seminars, self-assessment, e-course, webinar, coaching and workshops – for a solution tailored specifically for your organisation. Glenn Widelko is a partner at ConsultF5 a valuesbased learning, leadership and talent development consultancy delivering sustainable change for individuals and their organisations.

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