Everyone likes the security of being in control of their time and their environment, but some people like predictability more than others. Guardian personalities (ESFJ, ISFJ, ESTJ and ISTJ) are hard wired to seek out situations they can control, where they do not feel any risk and where "business as usual" reigns supreme. This preference sounds great on the surface, but it has a habit of binding Sensing-Judgers in imaginary shackles that prevent them from taking on any challenge that might not be successfully overcome.
The good news is that everyone has the power to expand their comfort zone. Here's how to help your "SJ" personalities develop a taste for novelty and tolerance of risk.
#1: Analyze the Excuses
Some people like working in a job where they are the go-to person for their area of specialty and where they know the work like the back of their hand. There's nothing wrong with that – unless it's getting in the way of something else the SJ wants, like being promoted. Guardian personalities are dutiful and often more ambitious than they are given credit for. Yet, they often find themselves stuck in a frustrating loop of excelling in their job and receiving constant accolades, but never moving up to the next level because they've demonstrated that they aren't a risk taker. Even Guardians get into ruts and grow tired of doing the same things over and over again.
Personality assessment can be hugely beneficial, here. It can be utterly eye-opening for an ambitious Guardian personality to realize that he's going to have to push himself just a little bit harder when presented with opportunities to grow and develop; he's fighting against an instinct, and that instinct is to stick with routine and predictability.
As a manager, you might suggest that your Guardian personalities take an inventory of the excuses they tend to make when avoiding situations outside their comfort zone. What are their fears? Are they truly legitimate? Can you address them by preparing a backup plan should those fears come to pass? Watch out for a Guardian saying, "Hey, I'm avoiding that risk because I'm an SJ." That may be a proclivity, but it isn't a reasonable excuse and will stop them improving as an employee and as a person.
#2: Support Them Through the Pain
For Guardians, the comfort zone feels safe because it's the hammock of their habits in action. They are cautious by nature, and are acutely aware that new possibilities are often accompanied by pain. Whether you want to them to give a presentation or look after a new client, whether you're promoting them, revising their job description or moving them to a new department – you first have to get them involved in something new with all its associated uncertainty, fear of failure, fear of looking stupid and fear of the unknown. There's the pain.
As a manager, you have a role to play in addressing this pain. You can make Guardians want to try something new simply by making sure that they can't fail. Handing out problems where there is no right or wrong answer, only an opinion for future discussion, can add a tremendous amount of reassurance because it means the SJ cannot fail.
#3: Give Them Some Worry Time
Guardians have a habit of talking themselves out of doing a good thing for any number of stupid reasons - someone might not like the decision I made, I might look like an idiot, people will criticize me if I screw up. Expect those feelings and be available for your employees to share those experiences and reactions. Guardians will always feel uncomfortable when asked to blaze a new trail and it's important to accept that they are going to worry. What's helpful, is if you can help them create a container for their worry so it doesn't spill over into every area of their work day.
If possible, designate a time when they can address their fears, take the plunge and focus solely on pushing themselves forward. Guardians are meticulous about schedules. They are more likely to face a new challenge if they can do so slowly, via a forward-planned and meticulous transition schedule, with plenty of time to look before they leap. While Guardians hate unexpected and unanticipated change, they are much more likely to embrace the new when they can orchestrate it themselves and start building up excitement about the potential new experience.
Just keep an eye on them so their worry time doesn't grow to catastrophizing. If they're busy raging against the machine, they're not using the transition time wisely. Keep drawing them back to the fact that they can do this – there is no fail. What have they achieved in the past that will set them up for this new challenge? What personal qualities do they exhibit that helped? Are they resilient? Diligent? Responsible? Brave?
#4: Normalize the Experience
Everyone is afraid of something at work: not being good enough, being disliked, not fitting in, making harsh decisions that hurt people, being fired. Being aware of this helps to take away the intensity of the fear. If you suspect an employee is feelings anxious and overwhelmed, tell him a story of how terrified you had been the first time you had to step outside your comfort zone. The fact that you survived, and thrived, despite your obvious fears should give your Guardian a boost of confidence. Even as she's struggling to change her perspective, help from the right people might show that she isn't nearly as frightened as she thought she would be. Remind your Guardians that they're not alone.
The bottom line is, many Guardians love the comfort zone and will stay in it unless someone in a position of authority does something that will push them out of it. Then, they will rise to the challenge! Have them analyze their excuses, give them some worry time, normalize the experience and support them through the pain. These strategies will help your Sensor-Judgers adapt and grow, which is usually one of their weak areas.