Sometimes, challenge is the best way to push others towards excellence and help them grow. The idea is to “stretch” expectations, to encourage people to believe in themselves, and to push them out of the comfort zone of the status quo or mediocrity.
As one leader expresses it, “You have to teach people to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Challenging those we lead to work harder and reach higher is a standard of good leadership; however, the fine line between demanding and demeaning is sometimes hard to see for those who do the pushing.
Challenge does not need to be loud, inflammatory, or derogatory. In fact, the best leaders create an expectation for performance by asking others to prove their skills. They challenge others to demonstrate their commitment by proving they can do more. Challenges asking for proof or demonstration of skill or talent are more optimistic than other types of challenges. They presume the person or team challenged can deliver on the leader’s expectations.
Challenge framed by demonstration works to display a friendly optimism instead of a caustic pessimism. “That’s the worst attempt you’ve made. What seems to be your problem today?” is a challenge that potentially demeans and demotivates. Compare that to, “That’s not your best stuff. Show me what you’re capable of.” In the first statement, the challenge is a put-down. In the second, the challenge is a request to display skill.
By framing challenges with a request for demonstration, we encourage people to perform. When we challenge without demonstration, we are often derogatory, even without meaning to be. Statements like “Let me see your best stuff,” “Show me how much progress you’ve made,” and “I want to see you work harder at that,” represent the challenge to prove your skills.
When challenged correctly, team members will likely rise to the occasion. When challenged negatively, team members turn a deaf ear or resist the need to perform. The best leaders challenge themselves to understand the importance of asking others to prove themselves. Now, that’s a leadership challenge worth taking.