Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

Maureen Johnstone is a leadership coach and the founder of Raventree Coaching. She’ll be leading a workshop at the upcoming She/Ze Leads the World Women’s Leadership Summit that will have participants embracing their awkwardness and vulnerability to become better leaders–in their own lives and for those around them.

Awkwardness and vulnerability can seem to many like something uncomfortable, unwanted, and out of place in the work setting. But, when embraced, they can have a great impact. They can help people connect, communicate, and go further. On the individual level, our awkwardness is a resource to getting us closer toward our goals.

For Johnstone, a leader who is willing to be awkward and vulnerable is one that is willing to truly connect with those around them. It is from this place of connection that we are able to be great leaders.

“As a leader we want to be comfortable with feeling awkward because that’s where we are most apt to be able to connect with someone else,” said Johnstone. “Ultimately, it’s about being seen and being heard–being visible. That’s awkward. That’s really uncomfortable. So, if you’re not willing to do that, you’re not going to be able to engage. It’s harder for people to see you and get to know you if you’re not willing to put yourself out there.”

Johnstone acknowledges that there is a risk and discomfort in the awkwardness. But, for Johnstone, the discomfort is key to the leadership journey. In order to do great things in our lives, we need to get “comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Anyone who is trying to do something big will stumble and fall. Part of the formula is being open to that and being able to pick yourself up and carry on. Johnstone spoke to the tolerance for discomfort and to building resiliency to these stumbles as a practice of being courageous.

“In order to be vulnerable, we need to have a courage practice,” said Johnstone. “And that involves understanding at a deeper level what are those buttons, those triggers, that potentially send us right into shame in a blink.”

In Johnstone’s session at the summit, she will help participants embrace vulnerability and awkwardness and redefine it. Rather than being a negative undesirable, they will learn to define is as a positive. 

“Vulnerability and awkwardness–we make it about being something wrong,” said Johnstone. “And I want to make it about being something right and really support leaders in being able to practice courage in those moments of vulnerability so that they don’t feel like they aren’t enough, or will never be enough, or that they’re a failure.”

By becoming aware of their triggers that happen when we step out of our comfort zones and by acknowledging the emotion of vulnerability, participants will begin to build a courage practice in their own lives. The journey isn’t a fast one, but it is a powerful one.

SHE/ZE Leads the World is hosted by SMRT WOMEN and the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre and will be held November 19-21. Event details and tickets are available at

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