“Would you rather live in a world safe from challenge, or one where you feel safe to be challenged?”
It was an intentionally provocative question, asked by a friend and colleague (Jason Tostevin of Savage Brand Lore) at a critical point in my development as a leader. Naturally conflict-adverse early in my career, I was prone to see each challenge as a disagreement, inherently confrontational with a clear winner and loser. When I embraced challenge and the insights and lessons it brought me, I experienced accelerated growth as an individual and as a leader and produced better results.
There are four steps to creating an environment where challenge can unlock results and accelerate growth.
- Make It Safe – As Joseph Grenny and his collaborators write in Crucial Conversations, “Dialogue calls for the free-flow of meaning – period. And nothing kills the flow of meaning like fear.” Conversely, nothing enables dialogue better than a mutual feeling of safety. Create an environment where respect, trust and consideration exist in the same space as honesty.
- Give It Structure – Until it becomes second nature (and for highly functioning teams, it is) give structure to challenge in your business. For every project or product launch, plan a hindsight or “post-mortem” meeting. Ask what went right, what went wrong and what you’d change the next time. Encourage dialogue and challenge in the context of the pursuit of your goals and your company’s purpose.
- Seek It Out – As a leader, model the behavior you want to see on your team. Ask frequently for your direct reports to question you, and seek out those people and situations that challenge your expertise and your beliefs. Identify and address barriers to achieving the level of safety necessary to enable challenge within your organization.
- Recognize and Reward It – When a member of your team challenges you or the organization, and through their boldness (and your bravery) produces greater results, celebrate the thinking and behaviors as well as the outcomes. Reward people for creating this kind of environment for their teams and being open to the possibilities themselves.
It is easier, of course, to avoid challenge – which most of us see as negative – than to seek it out. Challenge can be scary and uncomfortable, especially when the challenge causes us to question our own firmly held beliefs or assumptions. But challenge is a secret weapon for you and your business, not a threat. Embrace it and you’ll accelerate your learning and growth, and unlock potential for your business.
This article may be reprinted when the copyright, link to article and author bio are included. ©2015 Storyforge, LLC. Please contact us for inquiries.
Haley Boehning is a principal at Storyforge. Building on 20+ years driving change and creating alignment for Fortune 500 clients, non-profits and start-ups, Haley has developed a pragmatic approach to change through storytelling, developing relevant, consistent and emotionally compelling messages and targeted communications strategies that help brand and culture triumph in times of great change.