What's the Context for Challenge?


Why don’t we see the importance of challenge in our efforts to motivate others to reach higher levels of productivity and achievement?  I’ve asked this question in prior Reading for Leading columns and asked it of audiences to whom I have spoken.  I have shared the perplexing data from tens of brainstorming sessions:  for every one person who tells me that the way to energize followers is “challenge,” there are six others who say that the way to energize them is to “feed them,” and two more who say feed them “chocolate!”

On Friday I was wondering aloud to a group of lawyer-leaders why it had taken them so long to identify challenge as an energizer.  I pointed out that challenge was in the title of my speech and permeated a discussion leading up to this inquiry about energizing.  “Why,” I inquired of them – and now inquire of you – “don’t we see the tremendous power of challenging ourselves and others to unleash energy?”  Think of Mary Lou Retton, Baryshnikov, Bill Gates, Colin Powell or YOU:  In instances of great achievement isn’t there always someone there setting a high bar, a lofty goal, a challenge?

I don’t think you can dispute that.  Can you?  As I pondered-remonstrated with the group of lawyers for not more quickly seeing the power of challenge, Judge Stephens pushed back.  She said challenge won’t work unless people feel you believe in them, feel like they have what they need to meet the challenge, and know it’s okay if they fail.  What do you think?  Are those the necessary conditions to make challenge work to unleash energy?  What do we need to put in place so that those we lead (and we ourselves) will accept challenges to: improve, grow, stretch, excel, reach, risk, aspire, experiment, and otherwise expend energy to accomplish our full potential?

I’d love to hear your successful experiences, where others have challenged you, or you have challenged others.  What were the conditions or context that led challenge to lead to actual motivation, energy expenditure, and results?  We’ve got to challenge yet challenge well if we’re to

Lead with our best self!


    • Hi, Dan. Judge Stephens “push back” to you makes sense to me. I would add that too often when trying to encourage people to reach beyond themselves it’s framed as a threat to their position and raises the specter of being fired. I have many friends who are physicians and I appreciate the way they approach a pattern that develops over time in their practice. They concentrate on identifying the problem and figuring out a solution with the help of all who are involved.
      When a challenge is perceived as a competition with a time limit, that presents problems for people who are more collaborative in their natural work habits. That can cause them to withdraw or simply ignore the challenge. My concern is how do we challenge those who dislike competing? Obviously we need to build trust, enthusiasm, and mutual mission/goal/objectives. I believe we need t create an environment where a variety of working styles is valued instead of what I’ve experienced so often that it is a competition 24/7/365. Don’t misunderstand, I like competition and am good at working and playing in such an environment on occasion. I just think we’re ignoring the potential of many people when it’s always competition.

      • Lea,
        Good addition. I think it’s interesting that you thought of “challenge as competition.” It made me re-read to see if that was what I wrote. I wouldn’t have been surprised, but I really didn’t make that connection in this RFL. So, that’s fascinating to me that you assumed challenge meant competition.

        I am guessing that Baryshnikov and even Gates were challenged to excel but not necessarily in a cut-throat competitive way. Tiger Woods is in a really competitive environment, to be sure, but I think his standard to which he’s challenged is himself, is getting below par, is hitting each shot exactly where he wants it to go. No?

        Still, I think you’re right on. Some people don’t want to be compared and set against others. But don’t we still want them to feel challenge? Challenge to fulfill their potential. Challenge to learn new skills. Challenge to deliver superb service?

  • Sometimes the people you challenge don’t have the ability to do what you want them to do. If they don’t have the training they need they will just sit there and spin their wheels or find ways to cover up the fact they don’t have the ability to do the job.

  • Dan,

    I think that Judge Stephens is correct. As a servant-leader, you cannot challenge and motivate others around you unless you trust, equip and empower them for success. I think often of Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) challenging his disciples and followers. He wanted them to succeed, be it walking on water or picking up their mat and walking; however, if they failed as they sometimes did, he was always there to take their hand, helped them up, and direct/instruct them for the next attempt. Often, leaders are too quick to challenge others but just with words. There is no power there. The power comes when a leader has faith in others to achieve the goal set before them and the willing to stand with them every step of the way. If they fail, then we fail with them. However, that should not be the end of the story, for the real servant-leader should be there to help them up and direct them to try again.

  • Challenging ourselves and others is very important. Meeting the challenge can energize a person and persons in our lives. What I see as the biggest challenge in the United States of America, that as Americans we start to know the difference between right from worng.

    Murder is wrong and most normal people will agree that murder is wrong. Yet, the U. S. Congress has given George W. Bush immunity for his murderous ways. I would say that the U. S. Congress does not know right from wrong.

    The Fifth Commandment says “Thou shall not kill.” Yet, the U. S. Congress acting like a god grants permission to George W. Bush to murder Iraqi people. Having the U. S. Congress know right from wrong is a huge challenge.

  • As to the leadership of Jesus, he had a few things going for him, the rest of us do not, however, miracles aside, much of what he did, ordinary humans are capable of. Jesus worked miracles to show his authority, that is he did it to prove that he knew what he was talking about, so people would believe him. No one expects you to assert your authority by Jesus miracle standards, but to challenge someone, you must not only have confidence in them, they must respect your authority or knowledge. That respect is often gained by first succeeding yourself, so people can see that you know how to succeed. Never assume that because you hold a high position in business or otherwise that you will have the respect of others.

    In Christianity, we are taught that the best way to teach (challenge) is by living a good life and setting a good example. Live a life that makes people want to follow your example. I have gains to make at this, but try to keep myself aware of the need to live a good life, be a good example, and that confidence is a two way street, much as is Grace.

    • Mark John,
      This reminds me of a great line often (but apparently incorrectly) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:
      “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

  • I spent some time this past weekend as I’m sure many other readers did, listening and thinking about the tributes that were being paid to Tim Russert. Tim’s competitors from the other networks and cable services admitted that by his setting the standard high, it made their own work and news shows better.

    • I think Tony is on to something: Establishing standards. If an individual sets standards and the results prove rewarding financially, socially, morally and ethicaly then a measure of satisfaction and respect should flow to the person who sets the bar. This may be a way of challenging others to meet challenges. For example, Gordie Howe still considered by many to be the greatest Hockey player ever to compete in the NHL set an incredible array of records as an athlete on the ice and he established an enormus reputation as a gentleman off the ice. Another crystal clear example is Steve Yzerman. I chose these two individuals because their character and level of excellance elevated the level of play of their teammates that resulted in the Detroit Redwings becoming Stanley Cup Champions. The Current Redwing Champions pursued the challenges that Howe and Yzerman created and met or exceeded them on the ice and off the ice this is exemplified by the apppreciation and respect they continually give their fans and the community where the Wings are held in high adoration. The standards have been set, and the challenges are met because these guys lead with their best self.

  • William Bridges, in his book Managing Transitions . . Making the Most of Change, would say that Judge Stephens was right on. People must know and believe they have the ability to “get there.” Believing in the abilities and talents of those you are leading, and providing the knowledge, training, or pathway for them to succeed is essential for them to have the courage to be passionate, energized, and ready to take the risk. Even though Bridges’ book is considered “old” today (written in 1991), I believe he continues to be on point.

    Be well,

  • Dan,

    I believe that the majority of people intrinsically want to do a good job and contribute to something bigger than themselves. So, while I agree with Judge Stephens comments that we, as leaders, need to provide encouragement and the tools to achieve challenges, I believe that most people want to be challenged regardless of this type of support. I, personally, have left positions where there were no longer any challenges and the monotony was strangling me. As a leader, I believe it is my duty to provide constant challenges or as I like to call them “opportunities” to my team. This includes sharing the “big picture” vision and how what they will do and have done contributes to something greater than themselves. I think this gives people energy and passion to achieve the challenges put before them because they understand how they are part of the outome.
    Even personal challenges, like finishing a bachelor’s or master’s degree are achieved because an individual had a passion to contribute to the greater world around them. I have only heard a few people tell me that they went to school just to do it. The majority of us who have achieved higher educational goals did so because we believed that the knowledge and wisdom we would receive would help us to offer something more to society than we could before.
    I think that understanding how the challenge or opportunity placed before you makes a difference to others and the world around you provides the energy and passion to be successful!

    • K –
      Nice connection between “challenge” and “vision” or purpose. Most people really want to contribute to something worthy.

  • When you are ready to challenge others to crank up the workplace energy level, here are some questions to ask yourself:

    How many people have I tried to energize who were not at all committed to change?

    How much time and energy have I wasted on trying to motivate people to get the best out of life, only to discover that they felt fine where they were?

    What activities have I promised to participate in, knowing it was going to be a waste of my time and energy?

    How many times have I stuck to something even though I had a gut feeling that it was a pointless, no-win situation?

    Anytime you put energy into a person or activity without the other person/people committed to the process, you are wasting your energy; more specifically, you’re dressing dead people. So, how many dead people have you tried to dress in your life?

    Here is a rule of thumb for recognizing that you are putting more energy into a person or situation than is needed: Anytime someone is totally uninterested in your input or what you need from the conversation, relationship or project, you are dressing a dead person.

    In a relationship, make sure you get something out of it as well as give something. If you are responsible for a project, make sure you hold the other team members accountable for their part of the project. The best way to do this is to assign tasks for each person and deadlines for completion of those tasks. If you do all the work and they do nothing, you’re working with dead people.

    At a cellular level, the neurons in our brain act as energy connectors thousands of times every second of our lives. We can take control of that same kind of energy and apply it to affect our lives as a whole.

    In “I Don’t Dress Dead People,” author Bob Rausch, Ph.D. tells us how to apply 22 ‘energy connectors’ we need to take advantage of our own personal sources of energy. The more you practice these 22 energy connectors, the more they become a part of your daily life. Mastering these energy connectors will transform you into a fully alive and passionate person.

    • John,
      That’s one powerful image:
      Dressing dead people. Yikes.
      I suppose it’s okay if you’re an undertaker?
      (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
      The 22 energy connectors sounds interesting.

  • Tim Russert comes to mind. Hearing all the personal comments on his life and leadership are inspiring. It would have been fantastic to have worked around him – constant challenge and encouragement to “get it right” and keep digging. And, he led by example. No one was better. I have no doubt that those who worked with him will become better journalists as they reflect on his example in the future.

    I think we can challenge ourselves to aim high, shoot for the moon, take a chance and go for it, etc. Things will happen and begin to fall into place if we keep pushing. Those “things” that start falling into place are our encouragement to keep trying. We may not have someone pushing and guiding us – we just need faith in our goal and that we have the skills to see it through. Example: last year I responded to your Reading for Leading when you spoke about your son’s enthusiasm for an upcoming event at school, and His blind faith that it was going to be a success with no thought of failure. You asked why we lose that positive approach as we grow older. You challenged us to show Leadership by stepping out to accomplish more and greater things. I challenged you to Lead by attending an event I was working on. Having the First Family at a fantastic culinary event and enjoying many of the recreational options Springtime has to offer IN MICHIGAN – showing leadership by spending some Spring Break travel at home (rather than a junket South) when our economy sorely needs the boost, became a goal that would be a win-win for us both. You accepted the challenge, and our Chef’s Challenge event was on the Governors calendar for quite a while. Unfortunately, something more pressing came up and you were unable to attend. I did get an encouraging letter from the Governor which was printed in our Program, and a 2 minute DVD Welcome to Springtime and our Event which was shown prior to our Iron Chef competition. The 1st Annual Chef’s Challenge was a great success to the extent that EVERYONE who participated (chefs from all over Michigan, Culinary school Profs. and student volunteers, Dept. of Agriculture supporters, Sponsors, and attendees) left bursting with ideas to grow the event and enthusiasm for next year. Everyone anticipates this event will become one of Michigan’s largest, most succussful events that will soon have nationwide appeal. We are challenging each other to excell, and I have no doubt our success and appeal will be vast and rapid. I remind you to look forward to next year’s event and hopefully Lead by example and enjoy Michigan during Spring Break.

  • Dan,

    I have read all the comments this morning and many appear to be discouraged because they don’t seem to view an instant return on their efforts. It doesn’t mean however, that they have not been able to have a significant impact on staff as well as peers.

    It reminded me of a letter that a college student sent me many years ago about how wonderful his high school counselor was. He told me he is certain that he would have never even graduated from college had it not been for this high school counselor; who was always reminding the students that they have to create their own successes; because there was not always going to be someone there to cheer them on.

    It was such a touching letter that I contacted the students old high school to see if the counselor was still there and he was. I faxed him a copy and he called me back saying he never thought any of the kids were listening to him.

    I asked the student if he had ever shared with the counselor the profound impact he had on him and the student said “No, he’s the counselor, isn’t that what they do? Encourage? I sent the original letter to the counselor, but I often wish that I had kept me a copy because I have shared this story often. It isn’t about us (the managers, leaders, teachers, etc.) It is about the people we are trying to impact. Aren’t we the leaders, suppose to teach, train and inspire?

    A very wise high school student I knew named Kate. Said at her high school graduation that “Our future is an empty book filled with blank pages, our daily actions will fill the pages.

    Let’s hope that we will fill our pages by trying to “Lead With Our Best Selves”.

    • Tip Lady,
      When I taught I always told the kids to come back. When kids came back and enter the sacred space of the teachers lounge I saw teachers light up. They didn’t care if they were the valedictorian, the captain, the so-called average student, or the kid they never thought would make it. They lit up.
      And the ones they remembered were the ones who challenged them!
      Thanks for your great reminders.

  • Dan, I agree with the judge. It has been my experience that it isn’t the fear of or lack of a challenge, it is the sense of lack of support or ridicule should you fall short or fail. It takes a very strong leader to cultivate an environment that does not DISCOURAGE failure. Note, I am not saying endorse failure and thus reward random, un-thoughtful ideas. However, without failure, there was no attempt and therefore no learning and thus no desire built to reach the peak. 50% of the people that even attempt to climb Mt Rainer, never make it to the peak. I’ll take someone who planned and tried, but failed, before someone who didn’t even attempt because they felt it couldn’t be done. Always take the person who has failed 3 or 4 times over the person who has never failed or failed only once. The person who has proven successes with demonstrated points of failure has, in my opinion, a desired behavior that is unique and yet intimidating to a lot of people. They understand how to plan and try something, anything to get what needs to be done done. Too many people in charge are more concerned that someone fails and the repercussions of that failure (within reason of course) rather than the idea that you have people on your team that are putting up and attempting many different ideas to reach a goal.

    A leader must:
    1) Cultivate an environment of trust both up and down the organization/team/club/etc
    -If your team doesn’t trust their environment, you’ll get nothing

    2) Allow for undiscouraged free-thought
    -Fosters the generation of ideas

    3) Coach and encourage team development through individual growth
    -There must be a path of development that people can see and follow, if so desired

    4) Allow for the self actualization of the team members as individuals who are part of a common team with common goals
    -Allows for leaders to develop within their own teams

    5) Blatantly reward the Individual and the Team for results (recognition, more responsibility, financial)
    -People expect to be rewarded for their efforts, if there is no reward, whatever it is, there will be no performance.

    6) Understand and manage to the individuals’ own motivator
    -People are motivated differently, but everyone has some sort of motivator

    7) Accept the idea of an idea being challenged. If the idea is really that good, it should stand up to the scrutiny of the team, regardless of it’s owner
    -Realize that sometimes the emperor is naked and needs to be told to put his clothes on, a leader must be comfortable within his/her own skin (no pun intended)

  • Dan, I like Mike’s comments for several reasons. It is nice to read someone’s comments which are focused on the question/topic at hand – and didn’t use your great forum as an excuse to rant about religious or political opinion. Refreshing indeed.
    Challenging a team is best accomplished when there is trust present – trust flowing both ways. The leader must have buy-in from the team – mere words of challenge often times are excuses for poor leadership’s accountability of action/inaction later. Team members have to believe they are free to ‘try and fail’. They also have to know the leader is seeking their assistance – not deflecting the responsibility for action. Challenging is best used for increasing or improving a team’s momentum, not for start-up purposes. Challenging is a leadership tool (personal motivator) not a replacement for leadership – leader’s need to remember this, team member’s already know it.

    • Berri,
      Thanks. I like that distinction at the end: challenge is not for “start-up” but for building momentum. Makes me wonder if I tried to get my little brother/mentee trying to run a 5K before I had sufficient trust at the base. Hmmm.

  • I think back to a specific time in my life where I was attempting something completely forgeign to me as an AmeriCorps member serving in my community’s school. The “challenge” was to create something that did not exist, that I had never done before. In my mind the potential for failure was huge. As a perfectionist, people pleaser, follower, I was questioning everyday (and then several times a day) whether I had what it took to do the job. I had a program director that constantly chose to focus on what I was doing correctly, about my abilities and strengths that she saw me using to get the job done. I had others that I could bounce ideas off of to get their opinions and input. Yes, I was challenged. But I was also given the support I needed to be successful in the task that was given to me. I think of specific times where I was not given guidance or tools or encouragement and I remember feeling completely frustrated and even abandoned and incompetent in my abilities to do the task that was given to me.
    Then I began to see that the result of having the support I needed was not only that I could do my job but that I could pass on what was modeled for me by my program director and other supervisors and peers. I was in contact with people from the community that volunteered with kids in our school. Now they were in a situation where they were being challenged and I was there to give them what they needed to meet the challenge. Whether that was encouragement, a listening ear, tools, whatever. I also found that I needed to give them my trust. I needed to be able to trust their judgement, their intuition, their way of doing things. Their way may not (usually not) be the way (or method) I would use to get something done. But, I needed to give them the permission to do it their way, trusting the result would be effective. I also realized that this is exactly what was being modeled by my program director and others that “allowed” me to serve my community. They trusted me. They trusted that I would come through. Yes, I would make mistakes, but they trusted that I would produce something beneficial to those I was serving.They chose to see beyond the mistakes, even at times when I myself was focused on my mistakes.
    So, does challenge produce growth? Yes. But with intuitive support from leaders that will bread leadership qualities in others. Thus making them more effective leaders with others. Leadership qualities need to be in tune with a persons’ unique and individual strengths; their brand, if you will. That is what makes organizations strong. It takes more time, but in the end is so freeing and actually saves time and energy.

  • Challenges can be energizing in the right “climate”. There is much research on climate for productivity. Certainly, individuals have to have an environment that allows them to take risks, fail, etc as was mentioned. I also think that is is important for leaders to have individual conversations with those who have potential and have never seen themselves as a leader or contributor. Some people do not realize all they have to contribute until someone taps them on the shoulder. I do believe that true leaders see talent in persons who don’t even see it in themselves and that leadership development is part of the leadership challenge because in some organizations, contributors are narrowly defined. Jerry Patterson, an educational author talks about exchanging new values in organizations for the old ones, including an openness to participation, diversity, conflict, reflection and mistakes. Finding challenges energizing or not depends on systems thinking and how organizations are “wired” to react to those challenges.

  • Dan,
    On a lighter note I appreciated the people who said chocolate motivates. Dr. W. Edwards Deming said that people need “joy in work,” and that usually includes challenge, food, chocolate and a sense of humor. Leaders who appreciate a sense of humor in the workplace, I think, also understand the need for employees to have a good work environment, proper tools and training, as well as an aim (mission) that they can believe in.

    So don’t forget the chocolate!

  • Challenge is a good motivator when the degree of the challenge is viewed as at least “possible” to the person. If it is too easy, it doesn’t seem important enough to be a motivator, if, on the other hand, it seems totally out of the realm of possibility, it ceases to motivate. Many workers today are having more and more “dumped” on them, due to job eliminations of others for cost control reasons. Often, they are already working 50 – 60 hours/week as salaried employees, and are barely keeping up. Work/life balance has suffered, as has participation in civic and volunteer activities, including mentoring programs like the one you promote. For them, it is like trying to run after a train that is so far ahead that it can barely be seen. I am quite familiar with this situation, as it occurred in my own life. I was fortunate to be of an age and situation to be able to avail myself of an offer of a “voluntary separation” from my company, though I will need to get another job, though not one, hopefully, of the stress level of my previous one. I was going to have to do something, if the offer had not come up and this was a great sadness for me, having been a successful, respected employee for many years with “role model” evaluations. There must be a way to challenge employees to be and do their best without resorting to “job creep”.

  • Challenge as a motivator why not? I have read some of the comments about if they don’t have enough training they will set around who ever they are? We will have to hold their hand?
    If it is a challenge then I am assuming that the answer is unknown so why would anybody need to hold anybodies hand? It is a Challenge a problem looking for solutions. What comes to mind to me is brainstorming not blamestorming, synergy. Everyone is an expert from their own point of view this expertise needs to be recognized, as the person or group that is responsible moves forward to find the best solution.That brings us to responsibility and another motivator, consequence which could be good or bad. Good is best but a lesson well learn could be good also. Bad could mean loss of profits, jobs, your job etc. But it could mean that you or your group is the example that others could learn from, kind of the Titanic and the iceberg or the Edsel and who would want to be associated with a disaster? Make sure the person, group understands the challenge, the paramenders, and the consequence then get out of the way I think your going to like the way it works.If not we have build better ships since the Titanic.

  • Fear is a motivating factor for some people but not all people. The challenge approach may be effective for some folks and not so great for others.

  • From my perspective, people need to know that what they are challenged to do is worthwhile.

    I know that I am free to fail. However, that failure isn’t free. Each one costs me credibility. No one will continue to do what costs them their credibility regardless how much they enjoy accepting and solving a challenge.

  • Sometimes a relatively small/short period of time, well spent, has lasting results of positive influence. This is respective of say, a sports coach, interacting for one season, which is a very short period of time relative to a lifetime.
    I took on the responsibility of boys basketball coach at a local countywide rural middle school several years ago. Although I am not a teacher or school system employee, I relished the thought of being instrumental in teaching the X’s & O’s of the game, and using the sport as a metiphor for life’s lessons. Fast forward five years…..two of the boys (brothers) that I coached in middle school are seniors, and both playing varsity basketball. They are winning every game, showing exceptional promise for a post season championship, at the state level. I decided to attend a game half way through the season. As I arrived early to watch the JV game, one of my former ‘pupils’ saw me enter the mezzanine, and immediately got out of his chair amidst a table of his peers (this is a young black man, I’m an old white guy! 🙂 and came over to greet me with a hug and a question, “Coach, what are you doing here?” My response was, “I’ve come to watch the # 1 basketball team in the state win tonight.” Moving on…..the team was highly successfull, moving through district and regional play, to the state championship game in Richmond, VA. The young man told me, after the final regional game, that if he had not been coached by me, in particular, how to play defense, he, and his brother would not be where they were today!~ VALIDATION for time spent; mentoring!! The boys went on to win the state championship. It was the first time EVER for any sports team from this county to win a state title!! The community was jazzed. I called the varsity coach, to introduce myself, and tell him what a fine job he had done this past year. I told him about the one regular season game I attended….he stated he remembered the game….I asked him how….he responded by telling me that my former player had pointed me out to him as I sat in the stands as an observer and fan. So, the story goes…..sometimes you won’t be around to see the results of good groundwork laid, but be certain, no good deed goes unrewarded…..sometimes it just takes time for the seed to grow strong.

    • Mark,

      You just desribed the Power of One! Keep doing what you are doing and know that You Make A Difference!

      The TIP lady

  • I’m still pondering something I heard on the radio last week. U.S. Rep Tim Wahlberg was on a local talk radio program in Kalamazoo, and he criticized Gov. Granholm for riding her bicycle to work. He said that having the governor of our automobile-producing state ride her bicycle to work sends the wrong message. (I didn’t hear him say anything about State Senator Tom George, a Republican, who has ridden his bicycle the 75-mile distance from Kalamazoo to Lansing.)

    I think that our governor and Sen. George should both be commended for riding their bicycles to work. Their efforts actually prompted me to start riding my own bike to work, including today (10 miles one way). Riding a bicycle produces less carbon dioxide, provides exercise, and saves money and gasoline. It can also be a lot of fun; I usually see deer or other animals when I ride my bike to work. The governor and Sen. George (both of whom are also more fit than I am!) represented true leadership. By contrast, I have to wonder about Rep. Wahlberg, who last year publicly compared Iraq to the Motor City.

  • Speaking as one of the “lawyer-leaders,” I agree that challenge can be motivating BUT can also be paralyzing. Some members of my profession are highly risk-averse and seek to accomplish tasks “the way we always have” so as to minimize the likelihood of failure. While such traditionalism can serve to avoid disaster, it also eliminates the potential for growth.
    Fortunately, this malady does not infect all lawyers, otherwise we would never see progress in the law. History is replete with examples of lawyers who saw a challenge and rose to it, rather than shrank from it. Think of Thurgood Marshall and his stellar victory in Brown v Board of Education.
    I see my task as a leader of lawyers to encourage them to let go of their fear of failure and tackle the challenges head on.

    • Fear of failure….when that concept creates a level of paralysis to push oneself, or motivate another possibly, guarantees the results. I’ve taken risks, accepted failures, got knocked down, continue to get back up, and most importantly, learn from my past, both in failure and success. Surprisingly, the mix of these two elements, success, AND failure, help to formulate vision, and humility. One is not attainable without the other.
      Yin and yang.

  • While I appreciate your premise that we want to empower those with differing views to challenge and speak up and be heard, there are those “repeat challengers” who do not reciprocate by “hearing” what others are saying. All need to be amenable to the challenge, not just stand their ground out of insecurity in changing or the need to be the center of attention.

  • The key for me is that I believe so many just shy away because they have never developed themselves enough to cope with challenge and the art of challenging others. Men are great at it as we compartmentalise things so well and wish to have everything ‘solved’ and nothing that causes us grief as ‘outstanding’. The classic example lies in the home and the simple challenge of asking their wife who is obviously upset about something… ‘How are you’. What is this? This is challenge, this is tough, asking a question to which you know you are going to have to possibly go deep or call on your strength to participate in the outcome – to love. So many just do not go there because they have never developed themselves enough to cope with challenge and in the example of husband and wife it is such a classic catalyst for communication breaking down and becoming less and less. By the way a lot of what I’m talking about here is in the book The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldredge – 2nd book after ‘Wild at Heart’.

    To take it out of the home – and I hope you didn’t mind me going to such a sacred place to make that point – challenge in a team sense or corporate culture is not much different. Again, whilst many may espouse that the theory of ‘challenge leads to growth’ is true, very few actually love and run towards that fact. That is the key to the whole thing but it must first start with development and the state of personal development that any one person is in. Of course the only way to personally develop, IS CHALLENGE… LEARN… AND CHALLENGE… LEARN …AND CHALLENGE and of course the learning can also come from putting the right stuff into one’s head.

    I concur as many have stated, that those we are to challenge require our love and support as we put the challenge before them. Just like a child who we give a job to that they have never been asked or trusted to do on their own. And in fact look at a new baby and those first years and tell me how challenge is not energising and doesn’t lead to great results. As a child learns to walk they know no other way but to keep going until it is mastered and what of those around them who are watching the miracle… come on Billie, you can do it, come on, you’re going great! What a lesson on how to we need to deal with those we set challenges before (though we may need to be cautious on making someone feel like a baby! 😉 ). However, in the same example, as a child gets older and we ask them to do something to stretch them but just leave them to their own devices the outcome can be terrible. They hit a wall, they struggle, if we aren’t around it can so often lead to a damaging result where not only are they unsuccessful at that attempt, but they choose to make no further attempt and worse still, feel that any challenge is worse than it is because they weren’t supported.

    To summarise what I am trying to say. I believe so few see challenge as energising not because it isn’t, but because they feel it is just too hard because it requires strength and a personal output or investment of heart or soul. People do not see themselves as being capable of coping with challenge so they avoid it. Show belief in people to do the exact opposite, and be the example of running towards challenge yourself, and the journey to challenge as an energiser is begun.


  • I heard only a few minutes of Dan’s address to the Joint Education Conference this morning, but was impressed with the material he shared on ‘energizing’ people. I was also surprised that challenge was so low on the list of energizers. I’m lucky, I guess, that when my boss challenges me to do a new task, I feel that his confidence in me is all that is necessary. But I also know that he supports my efforts, and will constructively help me reach the goal (and then act like it was all my doing). That makes it easy to accept the next challenge.
    I hope to read more about this topic from Dan’s materials.

  • Mihalyi Csikczentmihalyi, the author of Flow, argues that we need a mix of challenge and support to achieve that wonderful state (which he calls “flow”), in which we lose our self, our sense of time, our resistence, that place where we soar towards committed achievement.

    Too much challenge and we are paralyzed. Too much support and we just don’t bother–why would we? We can’t see ourselves in the work that’s going on.

    Finding a mix of challenge and support that encourages, strengthens, and inspires is a tremendous act of leadership. It’s also remarkably selfless because it requires us to relinquish our ideas about where others “should” be or what they “should” need.

    • Krista,
      This comment makes a ton of sense! Thanks for sharing it. It seems like a gauge that would be really useful both for coaches of athletes/teams and business people/teams.
      Thanks for joining the conversation.

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