One of the speakers at a recent conference is an icon in the consulting industry. As part of his remarks, he playfully mocked the notion of firewalking as a component of personal development. While highlighting the story of an event at which several participants suffered burns on their feet, he wryly stated, “Perhaps they weren’t motivated enough,” rewarding the speaker with laughs.

There is an absolute ridiculousness to the notion of hundreds of participants walking across hot embers at two o’clock in the morning. I say that from experience, as I attended a Tony Robbins Unleash the Power Within weekend nearly 20 years ago as part of my personal development.

And within five weeks of that event, I changed jobs and experienced a career and life that I couldn’t have dreamed of as a kid growing up in East Moline, Illinois.

Why Fire Walk?

What’s the purpose of a firewalk? It’s a dramatic metaphor for moving out of our comfort zones and taking action. And while the training mantra of cool moss, cool moss, cool moss, is entertaining, the reality is that the physics of glowing embers, wet feet, and continual movement keep most participants safe. With that said, getting across those embers at the end of a 14-hour day with a few thousand people around and music pumping is exhilarating!

To be clear, I’m not trying to sell you on Tony Robbins or any other personal development guru.

Challenging Ourselves

What I know for sure is that our development as people and leaders depends upon us challenging ourselves with books, speeches, seminars, and stretch assignments that make us uncomfortable or fearful or reluctant at the start.

Growth occurs when we demand more than we think ourselves capable of achieving. It can happen in a fitness club, training for a 5K, learning to ride a bike, or taking on the leadership of a new team or company.

I can safely say that every leader I promoted to a new position believed they weren’t ready for the next step. In fact, each was ready, and in most cases, months before their promotion.

As leaders, we must push ourselves into situations that stretch our capabilities. We also have the responsibility to develop those we lead, provide them with opportunities, and support them by acting as mentors, coaches, and safety nets. This is the way we build sustainable, high-performance companies where our people want to work and contribute.

To be an increasingly effective leader does not require us to walk on hot coals or to walk on water. It does require us to continue to put ourselves in positions to teach, learn and continually grow and contribute. Choose the method that works for you and act on it!