Generously Challenging

Tech and life hacks might have taken all the fun out of falling flat on your face.
And as leaders, we do it to our teams too.

Many, including me, have obliger tendencies and it’s in our wiring to help others and make things easier. No one likes to see others suffer. And yet, often it’s through that same suffering and sacrifice that helps us learn, grow and become stronger. So if we take away the hard part and keep things easy, how might we be challenged to become better?

One of my flaws as a leader in my previous existence in the military was that I failed to embrace the posture of being generously challenging. I’d opt to provide answers because that was easier and more efficient for me. There was a job to be done and targets to meet. There was no time for meandering down the scenic route.

On the other hand, I also encountered many leaders who just seemed to make things unnecessarily more difficult. That’s not where I am heading with this.

I am talking about signposting towards solutions, that would allow the learner to embark on their own voyage of discovery and insight. That way, the learning can stick and be easily recalled in the future. And that in itself is challenging. Bordering on excruciating. Watching on while someone grapples with a problem when you know you have the solution.

It saves time and energy in the short term to provide solutions for others. But, consider the long term effects of stepping in to save the day. You might be robbing someone of the autonomy and volition to think critically and for themselves. This means you will always have to be there to assist.

Now that might massage your ego for a time. But when you need the time and space for your own development, you might find you’re needed elsewhere.

How might you create more time and open up the space for learning at one’s own pace?

Remembering that tendencies are merely an inclination towards a particular character or behaviour. You can choose to lean in another direction.

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  1. Dave

    Weirdly, this reminds me of high school calculus. There is a type of problem to solve called an integral. Any (???) integral can be solved by one of three or four different solution strategies, but not every strategy will work on every problem. The trial-and-error approach would have you try one strategy and, if that didn’t work, try another, until you found the strategy that worked. However, with enough practice, you could look at a problem and discern which strategy is likely to work, out of the gate, saving you the trial-and-error time. This is low stakes, but imagine if there were 4 ways to suture an incision following a surgery and the best choice would lower the chances of infection and increase the likelihood of the stitches holding, but may increase the possibility of scarring, and only with enough practice will the surgeon know the best approach to take in a given situation. In other words, I think it’s the practice that is so valuable that giving-away-the-answers deprives a person of. But the specificity of my take on this exists neatly in the same world as your post. They’re two facets of the same problem: the downside to “obliging”.


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