Let's Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Jan 05, 2024

There are always conversations about what we want to change in the new year. It was during one of those conversations with some friends recently that the discussion turned to the reason why the same things end up on the list year after year. The consensus answer wasn’t a revelation. Change is hard and the decision to choose a different path is uncomfortable. The interesting part is that most of us know what we need to change. We just aren’t willing to trade our comfort for a better future. I’m going to operate under the assumption that most of you are just like me and have areas we want to improve. As such, for the next month, I’m going to give thoughts on many of the challenges that will have to be faced in the journey to a better future.

I had the good fortune of witnessing a great leader address the challenges necessary to move toward greatness. I’ve admired his leadership and have worked to learn and emulate many of the qualities he possesses over the past decade. I’m going to lead this series off by telling you how he tackled one of the most difficult situations possible and led his organization to incredible results.

Many of you know that I spent a long time at CHS, and if you’ve been reading my thoughts for a while, you’ll know about the respect I have for Darin Hunhoff. In addition to Darin, I was blessed to spend multiple years with some leaders who pushed me to be uncomfortable. I was fortunate enough to win the top sales award (either personal or district) in over half of my years with CHS. While it would be fun to take credit for that, the truth is that if I didn’t have Craig Bollig pushing me to find new ways to compete and close sales the personal awards wouldn’t have happened. If Kevin Kalsbeck hadn’t constantly pushed me to be uncomfortable in creating go-to-market strategies that opened greater profitability for CHS’s owners AND if I didn’t have the opportunity to work with great customers who were willing to give it a shot, the district awards would never have been a reality. The point is that many times the people standing in front of the customer get the personal benefit of growth through being uncomfortable, but that wouldn’t happen if there wasn’t a courageous leader who has become comfortable being uncomfortable and allowed that culture to flourish.

The CEO of CHS Inc. Jay Debertin navigated the company through some of the toughest situations a leader can face. During my time there, he led CHS through changing economic situations, the COVID pandemic, and the start of the Ukraine/Russia war. (The war took on extra difficulty because CHS has employees and assets in Ukraine.) The situation I want to focus on today is the economic situation he led through during COVID. I very clearly remember an employee town hall in which Jay said (I’m paraphrasing) that we have come against unprecedented times. He said that CHS will adapt, endure, and be stronger because of it. To lead the company during these times, Jay had to lead his team and the company through some decisions that could not have been easy. Delivering these messages isn’t always comfortable, but Jay showed strength by delivering the message with confidence and honesty. In the years that followed, CHS implemented new processes, and every employee was charged with becoming more efficient, both financially and in productivity. CHS achieved that goal, survived, and flourished in extraordinary back-to-back years.

You’re probably wondering why I told you this story and the answer is simple. CEOs like Jay must make difficult decisions. Sometimes those decisions result in people leaving the team. Other times those decisions result in activities being stopped and new initiatives being implemented. People depend on them and because of that they must make hard choices and own the outcome.

With that in mind, over the next several weeks I’m going to use these thoughts to challenge you (and me) to be the courageous CEO of your life because people (family, friends, coworkers) depend on you as well, and both you and they deserve the best version of you. In our journey to improve, we’re going to talk through the people you surround yourself with, taking an honest account of where you are, examining routines, and getting started. So, if you read my thoughts, get ready to be uncomfortable. That’s my goal. I want to create enough friction to light a fire.

That leads me to this week’s challenge… Take a little time to write down your wants. You know what they are because you can feel the fact that you haven’t pursued them nibbling at your soul. It doesn’t matter how big, small, daunting, or easy they are. The fact remains that you haven’t yet achieved them. I have friends who are going to read the Bible from cover to cover this year (great discipline and goal!), others who want to start a business, and others who just want to look at their phones less. I’ve already said I want to take this journey together, so here are my 5 for this year.

Professional 1. Add $350,000 in direct revenue (not patronage) to farmers through programs within the framework of Globally Responsible Production. (www.globallyresponsibleproduction.com) 2. Be ruthless with my schedule – only call for or attend meetings that contribute value. Maximize my productive contribution through intentionality. 3. Unwaveringly drive strategy. We have a simple mission (Achieve great profitability through created connections, innovation, service, and execution) that’s incredibly tough to achieve. I must be clear in our strategy and be unwilling to compromise on our opportunity to execute it.

Personal 4. Schedule and plan date night with Michelle twice a month. 5. Routinely trade TV for card and board games with my family.

I know your goals will be different than mine and that’s perfect. I don’t care what it is, if it’s important to you, join me in their pursuit. If you want accountability, share your goals with me, I’d love to be a part of your journey.

I’m thankful that you were willing to go to work today, that you took the time to read this, and for being a part of what makes this world amazing!