What is "Leading from the Edge"?

In the rapidly evolving business landscape, leadership often requires more than maintaining the status quo. To truly innovate and excel, leaders must learn to embrace and operate within realms of discomfort—a practice known as leading from the edge. This approach pushes the boundaries of traditional leadership, fostering an environment where creativity and change are not only encouraged but required.

The Role of Discomfort in Innovation

Discomfort is a powerful catalyst for innovation. It compels individuals and organizations to look beyond conventional solutions and challenge existing paradigms. For example, the shift towards remote work was initially a source of significant discomfort for many companies. However, those who embraced these changes often discovered new efficiencies and better ways of engaging their workforce.

Innovation through discomfort isn't just about adopting new technologies or strategies; it's about developing a mindset continually seeking to find and solve new challenges. For example, it could be as simple as re-evaluating an outdated policy or as complex as overhauling the corporate structure. What's important is the understanding that comfort often equates to complacency, while discomfort can drive growth and improvement.

Strategies for Embracing Discomfort

For HR professionals, fostering an organizational culture that embraces discomfort begins with leadership. Here are several strategies to encourage this mindset:

  1. Promote a Culture of Experimentation: Encourage employees to take calculated risks in their work. Reward initiatives, even if they don't always lead to success.

    Example: Set up a formal program where employees can pitch their ideas and receive resources to develop them.

  2. Develop Resilience Training Programs: Offer training that helps employees manage stress and adapt to new situations.

    Example: Include resilience workshops or stress management sessions to help employees feel more comfortable facing new challenges.

  3. Implement Flexible Work Policies: Flexible work arrangements can introduce a mild level of discomfort as teams adjust, but they can also lead to greater autonomy and job satisfaction. These policies should be monitored and adjusted based on employee feedback and performance metrics.

Leadership Skills for the Edge

Leading from the edge requires a distinct set of leadership skills:

  1. Adaptability: Leaders must pivot quickly and be open to multiple strategies or visions, which involves being open to feedback and making changes based on new information.

  2. Visionary Thinking: It is being able to see beyond the immediate challenges and envision what could be possible if something new were tried, which means thinking long-term and being driven by a passion for innovation.

  3. Emotional Intelligence: Managing one's own emotions and understanding the feelings of others is crucial when navigating the waters of discomfort. Leaders must be adept at supporting their teams through changes and challenges.

Implementing Edge Leadership in HR Practices

HR professionals can apply edge leadership by integrating it into various HR functions:

  1. Leadership Development Programs: These programs should include modules on managing discomfort, leading change, and fostering innovation. They should also emphasize practical skills like emotional intelligence and conflict resolution.

  2. Performance Management Adjustments: Redefine performance indicators to support innovation-oriented goals. An example is valuing quality and creativity over quantity or speed.

  3. Employee Engagement Initiatives: Create initiatives that encourage employees to step out of their comfort zones. Examples could include innovation challenges, hackathons, or cross-departmental projects.

Real-World Application

Organizations that have adopted agile methodologies can provide a practical example of leading from the edge. Initially designed for software development, various departments have adapted agile frameworks to improve responsiveness and enhance collaboration. HR departments can adopt agile techniques in their operations to help teams adapt quickly to changing conditions, prioritize tasks more effectively, and foster continuous feedback and improvement.


Leading from the edge by embracing discomfort is not just necessary for innovation; it's a strategic advantage in today's competitive business environment. For HR professionals, instilling this mindset across the organization starts with leadership. By encouraging risk-taking, resilience, and adaptability, they can cultivate an organizational culture that not only faces change head-on but thrives on it. This strategic shift is not about seeking discomfort for its own sake but recognizing that the potential for significant growth and groundbreaking innovation lies in the discomfort.