Practice Two: Challenge People to Grow
High performers challenge the people around them to rise to higher levels of performance themselves. If you could follow them around as they lead their lives, you would see that they consistently challenge others to raise the bar. They push people to get better, and they don’t apologize for it.
This is perhaps the most difficult practice in this entire book to implement. People are afraid to challenge others. It sounds confrontational. It sounds as though it might make people push back, feel inadequate, or ask, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
But this isn’t about confrontation. It’s about issuing subtle or direct positively framed challenges to motivate others to excel.
As with any communication strategy, intent and tone really matter. If your intent is to diminish others, then your challenges will likely influence people in negative ways. Look for a similar result if you sound condescending. But if your intentions are clearly to help someone grow and become better, and you speak to them with respect and honor, then your challenges will inspire better action.
Influencers challenge others in three realms. First, they challenge their character. This means they give people feedback, direction, and high expectations for living up to the universal values such as honesty, integrity, responsibility, self-control, patience, hard work and persistence.
Challenging someone’s character may sound confrontational, but in practice it’s a supportive, helpful gift. I’ll bet someone influential in your life once told you, “You could do better,” or “You’re a better person than that,” or “I expected more from you.” These were standard setting statements that challenged your character. You may not have liked hearing them, but I’ll bet they got your attention and go you to rethink your actions.
Of course, challenging someone to develop more character can happen in subtler ways, through indirect challenge. Asking someone, “How would your best self approach this situation?” challenges that person to be more intentional in how they behave. Other indirect challenges might sound something like:
- “Looking back, do you feel you gave it your all?”
- “Are you bringing the beset of you to this situation?”
- “What values were you trying to embody when you did that?”
For leaders, I suggest the direct approach of asking people to think of how they can challenge themselves in future scenarios. Ask, “What kind of person do you want to be remembered as? What would life look like if you gave your all? Where are you making excuses, and how might life turn out differently if you showed up stronger?”
The second area where you can challenge others concerns their connections with others – their relationships. You set expectations, ask questions, give examples, or directly ask them to improve how they treat and add value to other people.
What you wouldn’t condone is poor social behavior. High performing leaders call out anyone who is being inappropriate, rude, or dismissive of someone else on their team. … The just don’t let bad behavior slide.
What’s important to note here is that high performers are explicit in their expectations for how people should treat each other. Im’m always surprised at how direct they are in telling people, over and over, how to treat one another. Even when people around them are treating one another well, they still keep pushing for them to unite even more.
If you’ve observed a high performing leader in a team meeting, you’ve probably noticed how often they suggest how the team should be working together. They say things like:
- “Listen to one another more.”
- “Show each other more respect.”
- “Support each other more.”
- “Spend more time with each other.”
- “Give each other more feedback.”
The word more seems omnipresent when they are challenging others.
The third area where you can challenge others in in their contributions. You push them to add more value or to be more generous.
This is perhaps one of the more difficult challenges that high performers issue. It’s hard to tell someone, “Hey, your contributions here at work aren’t enough. You can do better.” But high performers don’t shrink from saying this kind of thing.
When high performers issue challenges to contribute more, usually they are not giving feedback sole on the quality of what you’re delivering now. Rather, they challenge you to contribute more looking ahead – to create or innovate so that you make the future better.
In almost every in-depth interview I’ve done, it’s clear that high performers are future oriented when challenging people to make better widgets today; they challenge them to reinvent the product suite, to brainstorm entirely new business models, to find adjacent markets to go after, to push into unknown territory, to add new value.
Though I initially thought that high performers were doing this on large scale, telling their entire team to crate a bigger future, I was wrong. Instead, high performers challenge individuals specifically. They go desk to desk and challenge each person on their team.
They adjust the level of challenge they issue to each person they are leading. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to pushing people to contribute. That’s how you know you’re working with a high performing leader: They’ll meet you where you are, speak your language, ask you to help move the entire team toward a better future, in our own unique way.
Think about a person in your life you are trying to influence positively, and complete the following sentences:
- There person aI am trying to influence has the the following character strengths …
- She could become a strong person if she …
- She is probably too hard on herself in this area …
- If I could tell her how to improve who she is, I would tell her …
- If I could inspire her to want to be a better person, I’d probably say something like …
- The way I want this person to interact differently with others is to …
- Often, this person doesn’t connect as well with others as I would like, because he …
- What would inspire this person to treat other people better is to …
- The greatest contribution this person is making is …
- The areas where this person isn’t contributing well enough are …
- What I really want this person to contribute more of is …
Practice Three: Role Model the Way
High performers give a lot of mindshare to thinking about being a role model. Seventy-one percent say they think about it daily. They say they want to be a good role model for their family, the team, and the greater community.
Of course, everyone would say they want to be a role model. Who doesn’t, right? But what I’ve found with high performers is that they think about it much more often and specifically in relation to how they are seeking to influence others. Meaning they aren’t just seeking to be a good person in general, as you would typically think of a role model – someone who is kind, honest, hardworking, giving, loving. They go a step further and think about how to act so that others might follow them or them them achieve a specific outcome. It’s less “I’m trying to be Mother Teresa” and more “I’m going to demonstrate a specific behavior so that others will emulate that exact behavior, which will help us move toward a specific result.”
There’s just something magical that happens in our life when we let all the drama go and decide to ask how we can be role models again.
- If I were going to approach my relationships and career as an even better role model, the first things I would start doing are …
- Someone who really needs me to lead and be a strong role model right now is …
- Some ideas on how I can be a role model for that person are …
- If, ten years from now, the five closest people to me in my life were to describe me as a role model, I would hope they say things like …