When did you last experience a ‘wake up call’? A moment in time when you realised things cannot go on as they are. These events are also referred to as ‘heat moments’ and can lead to big changes – for the better! 

They can occur during times of stress, of work overload, when facing complex situations, when results really matter or at any time when we’re working outside of our usual ‘comfort zone’.

During these intense conditions, we may realise that our current way of thinking is inadequate, and that new ways of working and managing are necessary if we are to fulfil our role successfully.

Through this process, a transformation happens. We change our mindsets, we think differently and are more open to new ideas and ways of working. This can lead to a step change in our performance – greater efficiencies, better delegation, more agile problem solving, and more fluid workflow.

It’s during this time that we grow, develop new skills, become better at decision making and transition to take on more responsibility and become better leaders. It’s good for the individual, and good for the organisation too.

A catalyst for personal development

Whilst this process has been recognised as a catalyst for personal growth, should we actively use it as a development tool, to push for change, and to create stronger leaders?

There is a strong argument that creating a culture of heat moments makes for a more creative workplace, one where we can try new things, have the freedom to fail, and to keep pushing against convention.

In my experience, I’ve seen this technique used in a number of situations, to good effect. It’s an effective way to test the aptitude of top talent, to see how far they can really go. Yet whilst it acts as a positive driver for some, it doesn’t always work that way, as too much stress can be counter productive. Getting the balance right and recognising which individuals respond well, is key to its success.

Applications of heat moment tactics

I worked with an IT Director some years ago. He was keen to push a particular individual whom he recognised as having talent and drive. His approach was to continue to assign increasing responsibility and workload. If the individual said that they were still coping (just), the IT Director would simply add even more. It took some time but eventually this individual recognised that they could no longer carry on working the same way, they simply had to do things differently if they were to fulfil their role satisfactorily.

It was during this ‘heat moment’ that they realised they could no longer get involved in the detail, they had to delegate, prioritise and make more use of their team. This was the transitional moment of growth into a leadership role that the IT Director had hoped for.

Team wide heat moments

Similarly, I worked with a team faced with a big period of change when their organisation was going through a merger. They were working in new teams, doing different tasks, reporting to new managers, and working all hours. During this time of stress they recognised they needed to rethink their daily work, what they had to stop doing if they were to re-establish their pre-merger rate of productivity and job satisfaction.

Though they were under intense pressure, the team learned a lot, about themselves, their strengths, and what new responsibilities suited them. It was a transformational moment that resulted in personal growth in differing degrees. We were able to assess which members of the team were ready for more responsibility and which had reached their limits.

Talent development

This process of introducing heat moments can be used to develop and retain top talent. Whether it’s changing roles, switching them to new teams, assigning different projects and challenges or moving them around, they are being faced with new heat moments on a regular basis. Some thrive in this environment, they love to push their own boundaries, and relish the opportunity to learn and grow. The result of course is great for the organisation as well as the individual; it’s a win-win.

Coaching through heat moments

In my role as a coach I’ve been involved in working with people during heat moments, helping them to step back and gain clarity about their situation. Whether their motivation is to step up in an organisation, to see how far they can go, or they need help in recognising that there is an alternative to working long hours, getting too involved in the detail, and simply taking on too much, coaching provides the time and space to rethink.

My role is to challenge beliefs and behaviours – because they’ve always worked this way, it doesn’t mean they can’t change, or that there isn’t a better way. It helps to look at situations from different perspectives, to stand back and ask questions. We spend time reflecting on the benefits of challenging beliefs and values and being open to new ideas. This time is ripe for promoting personal growth and cultivating a long-term growth mindset.

Pushing boundaries is by its very nature an uncomfortable experience. The more at ease we are with feeling uncomfortable, because we see it as a necessary element of personal growth, the more likely we are to realise our true potential.

Have you experienced a heat moment in your career that you would be willing to share? I would love to hear about it.