The elegant challenge
I often come across leaders who shy away from challenging others. At times when they’ve stepped up to this responsibility it has gone wrong. For others they’ve been on the receiving end of something rather clumsy at best and extremely aggressive at worst.
Perfecting elegant challenge is one of the most valuable investments we can make in ourselves and for our people and organisation. We’ve all likely experienced the positive impact of elegant challenge at one time or another.
The right challenge, made at the right time and in the right way can change the game, unlocking the thorniest of issues, releasing commitment, capability, performance and progress. Yet mastering challenge so it is consistently effective and appropriate can, in itself, be the biggest challenge of all given the multiple capabilities and qualities on which we need to draw.
Our emotional intelligence (EQ), for example, is pretty key here. The need for challenge is often driven by things that have gone wrong so our anger or frustration might be trying to muscle in on the act, unhelpfully. Identifying and managing our emotions well will enable us to respond rather than react.
Our EQ is also essential to right-timing – if our radar is finely tuned we’re less likely to tackle the tough stuff if the other person isn’t in a place to receive.
Then there’s the form of challenge. Here, asking rather than telling brings better results, prompting self-refection and allowing for self-discovery and the greater sense of ownership that confers. So we need to get really proficient at framing the right questions…the ones that get to the heart of the matter.
Good communication skills are vital too, particularly the ability to listen deeply. That means being fully present, in the moment, really being there for and connecting with those we’re challenging.
And then there’s the most important quality of all – our intention. Everything else matters little in elegant challenge if our intention is misaligned. This is, of course, a question of the heart. Our challenge will have both elegance and eloquence if we’re holding a heartful intention of helping and supporting the other person to progress, for their benefit and in contribution to a greater good.
And isn’t that a worthwhile aim?