Step Outside Your Comfort Zone — But Stay True to You

March 15, 2021 Pat Costa

This month we’ve been celebrating both International Women’s Day (IWD) and Women’s History Month at Conduent. I’ve been extremely impressed with the way our associates, both men and women, have been engaged in conversations and open to different viewpoints and ideas.

On a personal level, I’ve spent time reflecting on my own experiences as a woman in business and frankly, it’s not something I think about every day. Not because the inclusion and advancement of women isn’t important to me, but because I've always been very conscious and deliberate about building a balanced organization. I've always worked to build teams in which someone else’s strength is my weakness — and that’s impossible to do without diversity of people, perspectives and skillsets.

When I think about how I personally “choose to challenge” (this year’s IWD theme), there are four main ideas (or challenges) that have driven the success of my teams, my career and my overall outlook on life. Perhaps you can relate to some of these, or perhaps they might help you view your own challenges through a new lens.

Challenge #1: Put integrity first

When I think about my approach to life and my career, integrity is the most important value and it’s something that’s always just been a part of me. I’ve never been a game-player — just direct, focused and hard-working. Doing what I believe is right and being true to myself have always served as the compass for how I navigate life and business, and that’s not always easy if others don’t share the same values.

Thankfully, I’ve never been forced to act without integrity or make promises to clients I couldn’t keep. Much like the old adage of the tortoise and the hare, being honest and sincere may come with challenges in the near term. But when you look in the mirror, you’ll know (and like) who you see — and in the long run, the race will be yours for the taking.

Challenge #2: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

I grew up with roots in the U.S. military. My father was stationed on one of the naval ships during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and both of my brothers followed in his service footsteps — one serving in the U.S. Navy and the other in the Air Force. Ironically enough, in some of my past roles, most of the top leaders were retired military men.

Despite my military upbringing and experiences, I never felt like I exactly “fit in” with the mostly male, executive leadership. However, I quickly came to realize that not fitting in was actually a good thing. While I didn’t look, think or act like the other leaders, I was absolutely valued for the unique perspectives I brought to the table. And I learned that having a certain level of discomfort made me more alert, self-aware, and ultimately more open to new opportunities.

That’s one of the reasons I challenge all of my female colleagues (and everyone on my team) to find a way to get comfortable with being uncomfortable — whether that means sharing your ideas in a meeting, having a tough conversation with a client or simply admitting when you make a mistake. If you don’t step out of your comfort zone, you won’t have room to grow into new experiences, roles or opportunities.

Challenge 3: Speak up and be heard

To me, a big part of operating with integrity is being open, transparent and inclusive. I'll often say to my team, “bad news doesn't become better with age.” People need to be comfortable with speaking up and sharing both good and bad news — while also speaking up for themselves.  

None of us can read minds, and something that’s important to you might not be as important to your boss or your co-worker. Likewise, and especially for women, if you’re looking for new opportunities or to advance in your career, you’ve got to make yourself heard. Not just telling your manager, “I deserve a promotion,” but sharing your goals, asking for and accepting coaching, being vocal about your needs, and demonstrating the value you bring to the table.

When I’m mentoring, I’m always very clear with people that the work we’re doing together is for their benefit, and that they need to drive it to create results. You may not always get exactly what you want, but you’ll never get ahead if you don’t speak up, take charge and work hard to be your best self.

Challenge 4: Value and recognize others

I’ve been at Conduent for just four months, and in that time I’ve done a whole lot of listening. I’ve also relied heavily on the experience, perspectives and knowledge of the people who have been doing this work for years. And in recognition of their efforts and strong leadership, I was thrilled to promote two women to executive positions during my first 60 days with the company.

Whether you’re in a leadership role or not, sometimes “challenging” is simply making it a priority to spotlight and celebrate the contributions of others. Send an email to their manager, say “thank you” publicly in a meeting, and give credit where credit is due.

The bottom line is, you should never be afraid to build someone else up — because in doing so, we can build so much more together.

About the Author

Pat Costa

As the Global Head of Conduent Healthcare Solutions, Pat Costa is responsible for Conduent’s extensive portfolio of solutions and services across the Payer, Provider, Pharma/ Life Sciences, Health Savings Account and Government Health business area. Pat has over 30 years of experience in executive leadership positions in the BPO and IT Services industry. Her passion focuses on leading organizations and providing value-based solutions that improve healthcare outcomes.

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