The key to performance and growth is coaching, but what distinguishes high-growth coaches from their less effective peers? The best coaches — perhaps counterintuitively — create an environment of discomfort. This discovery was quite literally an epiphany that stopped us in our tracks and caused us to dig further into why exponential and sustained growth only occurs in a state of discomfort. Through this work, we developed a model called the growth rings.
The Growth Rings
The growth rings represent four primary environments that exist in our world and illustrate how these environments either promote or hinder growth.
The first Growth Ring, stagnation, represents a low-performing, low or negative growth environment. Stagnation is a situation in which people may need to follow too many steps, get someone else’s permission or deal with minutia that stifles creativity, independent thought or action.
The antithesis of stagnation is the second growth ring, chaos. Chaos may be a temporary state that occurs, for example, in the early stages of a new business or during events such as mergers and acquisitions.
The third growth ring is order, the most comfortable environment but also the most dangerous. Order is achieved when the same repeated processes lead to a predictable result. However, order, by nature, doesn’t promote evolution, so extinction is likely. This applies not only to biology, but to products, markets, skills and businesses.
This brings us back to discomfort. To break the order, you need to change what you input. When inputs are altered, you eliminate order and enter the complexity environment — the fourth growth ring. Complexity is the only environment that creates exponential growth or consistently sustains growth. To attain complexity, you must first understand that it is driven by changed inputs and unknown outcomes and discomfort.
Although most people try to avoid discomfort, it provides a wonderful opportunity, allowing you to decide to remain in discomfort, causing complexity, or go back to order.
Coaches who know that their job is to ultimately create and sustain growth view discomfort as something to embrace. According to our research, for example, sales teams sell more when coaches create complexity.
It takes a talented frontline or executive leader to know when and how to personalize complexity for an individual and decide when it is appropriate for a team. More than anything, a coach must be strong-willed to have the ability to persevere through discomfort and shoulder the baggage that comes with the disruption complexity causes. When your team is complaining and upper management wants to know why there is consternation in your department, you must question yourself: Do you have the courage to keep going?
Most managers do not. They find excuses to look for another approach, to return to old ways, to make a popular decision as opposed to doing what is best for the team. But executive leaders who are committed to evolution and who do not acquiesce in challenging periods caused by complexity show more growth. Knowing and implementing this coaching process will provide you the ability to move effectively through the growth rings, with an obvious focus on moving into the sweet spot: balancing order and complexity.