Great Leaders Keep Employees Uncomfortable

Ensuring a positive and engaging work environment is a key leadership responsibility. But, when people confuse this responsibility with keeping everyone happy and base their decisions solely on this goal, problems arise.


A manager needs to move her team off the company’s server to cloud-based software. The implementation of the cloud-based software will allow the team to lower costs and be much more efficient. But, the manager is facing challenges. The team members are experts on the software they currently use (some have been on the team using the same software for over 15 years) and are not happy with having to learn a very complex new technology. Two team members have even threatened to retire over this forced software change. This manager has been implementing the change very slowly, trying to keep everyone positive and happy.


Unfortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, managers who prioritize keeping their people happy and comfortable usually have poor long-term job security. These managers are secure for a period of about three to five years before they are either let go or moved to a less significant position in the organization.


There’s a good reason for replacing or moving these managers to positions of less influence. While they were focused on keeping their people happy and comfortable, the world was rapidly changing around their department and organization. As the world moved forward, their department didn’t. Because these managers didn’t get their departments up to speed, major problems in the areas of customer satisfaction, quality, timeliness, or cost-competitiveness occurred.


To be a successful leader in today’s world, your focus needs to be on getting your people to handle rapid change as it comes along. And the problem with rapid change is it usually makes people feel uncomfortable, and possibly unhappy and fearful.


The following seven recommendations can help keep your people uncomfortable and help ensure your department or firm’s long-term success.

  1. Read the writing on the wall. Today, there is much writing on the wall about where the world is heading. New technologies. Artificial Intelligence. Robots. Five Generations in the workforce at the same time. Higher customer demands. Faster service requirements. Increasing quality standards. More employee demands. All of these changes are going to have a significant impact on your department or organization’s success.
  2. Raise the bar! What are you doing to raise the bar for each one of your employees in areas such as learning new technologies, improving customer and employee satisfaction, quality, response time, etc.? If you don’t significantly raise the bar, who will? To not raise the bar, even for one year, means the world around you moved forward during that slice of time…but your team did not.
  3. Over-communicate the need for change. One of the reasons that managers and leaders usually see the need to change before the general workforce is because they have more available information from which to make decisions. The more information you can provide to your people regarding the economy, environment, and your customers, the more people will understand the need to change.
  4. Implement fast change…not slow change. All our research demonstrates that fast change is easier to implement and be accepted by employees rather than slow change. The easiest way to get people to change is not to give them a choice. As one CEO recently stated when faced with the need to rapidly realign the needs of her firm to the competitive environment, “The people are going to change or we are going to change the people.”
  5. Hold people accountable for results. When it comes to change, many people like to blame others. Don’t give people the opportunity to blame others for not achieving results. Ensure that everyone is clear about what results are expected from them and in what time frame.
  6. Re-define loyalty. In the past, a loyal employee was one that worked for you for a long time. In fact, some organizations had an informal corporate motto that went like this: “Keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t make waves.” If you lived this motto, you were guaranteed a long career. In today’s new environment, the employee who is out there chopping the water—making us all feel uncomfortable about what we should be doing but are not doing fast enough—is the loyal employee. The individual who complains that we are not changing fast enough to keep up with the times is now the loyal employee. The old definition of loyalty will put us out of business. We must get excited about change and “chopping the water.”
  7. Get passionate and excited about change. If you really care about your organization’s long-term success, you will encourage employees to change the way you do business…even when they don’t want to make the change because it’s uncomfortable. Talk to customers; talk to the employees on the front line; talk to people in industries different from the industry you are in; read books that talk about the future; and go out and talk to your competitors. All this will result in an information base to help you become more confident, passionate, and excited about the need to change and stay competitive.


Great leaders keep their employees on their toes. They expect more from team members because they know they are capable of more. To stay successful in today’s economy, we all have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

(2) Comments

  1. A very relevant and beautifully articulated article.

    has personally given me a deep insight on the subject called ‘loyalty’ – this word is often misplaced

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