In his autobiography, Miles Davis, the world renowned jazz trumpeter and band leader, claims to have changed...not just his style, but all of music six times. A bold claim to be sure, but many jazz musicians and historians agree with him. Duke Ellington, for one, compared Davis to Picasso for his continuous musical reinventions.

Davis was so intent on pushing the boundaries of his art and the changes he made were so compelling that he did influence the course of music in the process.

Here are a couple examples.  According to a 2010 article by John Fordham in The Guardian, early in his career, young Davis helped changed bebop's chaotic wall of notes with softer tones, fuller ensemble harmonies, and more spacious  solos – a development that came into full bloom in Davis' Birth of the Cool recording sessions.

Shortly thereafter, in his 1959 album Kind of Blue, Davis dispensed with soloing over the established chord structure of the song in favor of soloing based on modal scales.  That album, which many regard as the definitive jazz recording, ushered in the modal jazz era.  Of course Miles was not the only one driving these changes but he had a huge influence.

How did this continual reinvention come about?  Keith Jarrett, a jazz pianist, tells this story.  Miles was very ill and Jarrett was visiting him.  Miles said, “You know why I don’t play ballads anymore? Because I love playing ballads so much.”

This simple vignette is worth paying attention to.  If you want to evolve as a musician or a leader or a person, how do you do it?  A common refrain is that you have to “get out of your comfort zone." But what does that mean, really?

Well one answer is that you should push what you are doing a little harder. For example, they say when you ski or skate, if you are not falling down periodically on your turns, you are not "getting on your edges" enough.  So the recommendation is to get out of your comfort zone and lean into the turns more.

But the Miles story here suggests another angle. Getting outside your comfort zone can also mean putting down what you love to do. You take what you like and what you are probably really good at and you stop doing it to grow into something else.

Why is this such an important idea for leaders? A leadership aphorism with more than a grain of truth to it is that what got you promoted might not help you at the next level; in fact, it might actually hold you back.

For example, as a director, your attention to detail and micromanagement might have ensured a smooth and successful operation that got you noticed. But micromanaging...even more…like getting more on your edges in a ski turn…is likely to backfire when managing other directors or VPs.

I am coaching a founder and CEO of a very successful company. There is no argument about what this man has built and achieved. However, his business has plateaued and he knows it. He also knows why. He is not being the strategic leader he needs to be. He is too caught up in operational issues and is often the only one who can solve the complex operational interactions because he built the business from scratch and knows it from the inside out.

For his company to begin growing again, he has to change himself. He has to detox from the rush he gets from being an operational savior.  He also has to allow some customer glass to break while he trains a group of people to know what he knows and do what he does. This will free him up to spend the time focusing on market dynamics and three year product road maps to jump-start growth.

Make no mistake, he is in a tough spot and doing this now will not be easy. Some customers are going to be upset at the sudden lack of responsiveness. He might even lose business in the short-term.

The best time for leaders to "change their spots" as it were is when they are in transition, getting promoted or moving to another company. In fairness to my client, as a founder, he didn’t really have the luxury of a distinct transition. He grew up inside the business and in that situation, it is hard to have the time and wherewithal to take a step back.

Unlike Miles, you don’t reinvent yourself just for the sake of reinventing yourself. But a new position might force you to change and it is wise to try and get out in front of it.

As you move up, the politics get a lot harder. It is less about what you do yourself and more about the coalitions you can build. Complexity and ambiguity increase. There is a broader impact horizon.
Moreover, if there is a weakness to your game, at a higher level it is likely to get exposed.  Depending on how serious, it could even derail your career.

A very successful executive director client of mine doesn’t like and doesn’t understand finances, but he wants to run a business. Should that opportunity come along, it is not likely to end well unless he changes.  Of course he doesn't have to become an expert, but putting down the things he loves and is good at...at least for a while...in order to develop functional financial knowledge will make him a better leader.

You can do this anytime, but if you are a leader in transition, I encourage you to take the time to inventory what you love to do and as important, what you try to avoid. Further, look at old performance reviews, ask former bosses and look in the mirror: why have you been successful to this point?

Then ask yourself if those predilections and strong suits are going to continue to contribute to your success in the new position.  Is it possible the new situation needs less of what made you successful and something new...perhaps one of those areas you have tried to avoid or just something that is not as natural for you?

Is it time to stop doing something you love…time to find joy and a new rhythm in something else…so you can play on a new stage?

Please share your stories of what you had to change to grow and any other comments below.