As human beings, we can be a little sensitive to challenge. Challenge instantly requires us to defend or change our stance which is something we handle with varying degrees of grace. To handle challenge with grace requires flexibility that comes with such multifaceted assets as self-worth, confidence, wisdom and humility. Acquiring and actively using these strengths takes practice, which means that each of us is at varying positions along that journey.
Realising this allows us not only to acknowledge, invite and handle challenge with awareness, but also to acknowledge that others around us may be practising using these skills too – with varying degrees of success.
It’s often acknowledged in team circles that many of the skills critical to being an effective team member require that we master them internally first before we can master them with others. Communication, for example, is a skill that we must work out within ourselves first before we can become more effective communicators outwardly. We must take self-management in hand and care actively about understanding the outcomes we create and how we influence them, before we can make changes that impact those outcomes. When we’ve increased our self-awareness and self-management, we can make strides to improve our communication with those around us; conscious of the different paths our conversations may take as we employ new skills.
Leadership, too, is a skill that must be mastered internally before it can be demonstrated externally. Investigating self-leadership, as well as leading from whichever position we currently hold are parts of becoming an effective leader of others. Leadership is a quality, not a title or position.
Challenge, is therefore something that we should invite – else we can stay in an uneducated comfort zone for a long time.
The first step is to seek to challenge ourselves. In some regards, it’s harder to challenge ourselves than to accept challenge from others. When others challenge us by questioning our viewpoints or reasoning, it’s easy enough to accept that they are separate people and therefore cannot possibly understand or see our view completely. It’s understandable that they may be misguided. Challenging ourselves means questioning whether the way we do things is effective, true, honest, or the best way. It means questioning whether we see the whole picture, or when we last reviewed the current picture. Perhaps we’re working with outdated information or beliefs. Perhaps we’d like to be getting different results, but haven’t considered that it may be us that needs to change our methods to make that happen.
When we challenge ourselves, it can get very real. To admit that we want different or more can open us up to the possibility of failure. To question whether it may be us that needs to do something differently to invite different results makes us directly responsible for the required change if the answer is yes.
Only once we’ve practised challenging ourselves on a regular basis can we be certain that our stance on anything is current, updated and useful. And that is “current, updated and useful” for us before it can be those things for others.
For us to be effective human beings living lives of contribution that allow us and those around us to grow and improve, we must continue to evolve ourselves. The world around us is constantly changing and new information is available every day. Our opinions, perspectives, skills and abilities can be updated regularly – these are just some of what makes us agile.
To the degree that we are agile and able to handle change, we are conversely able to maintain balance and certainty. To challenge yourself, the way you do things and the things that you believe is to be in constant touch with yourself and what you know for sure. From this combined sure footing and agility comes an enhanced ability to invite challenge from others.
When we can ask those around us to feedback to us on how we’re doing in any sector of our lives we choose to, we invite them to check our self-awareness. We invite them to share their varying perspectives with us which helps to broaden our own.
When we ask such questions as “How do you think I could do this better?”, or “What do you need from me today?”, we invite others to reflect our usefulness back to us. When we invite this kind of “soft” challenge, we test how effective we’re being and can improve on or meet any gap that might become obvious.
Inviting challenge is a powerful position, whether you consider yourself a team member or a leader. Practising challenging ourselves prepares our stance. Openly inviting feedback from others around us provides us with self-checking perspective that allows constant improvement. Setting the example of self-challenge, and inviting feedback and challenge easily and openly encourages others to do that same.
Challenging ourselves first, before we challenge others, means taking personal responsibility for the things we can control (ourselves) rather than spending our energy challenging the things we can’t (others). When we invite feedback from others, we find out how effective we’re being and how we can improve. When we ask “What do you need from me today?”, we invite others to challenge us in a way that is constructive, rather than threatening.
Self-challenge, and inviting feedback and challenge from others requires courage. Would you rather be a person of courage or of comfort?
It takes courage to accept challenge – your own or others. It’s appropriate to remind ourselves that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather feeling its presence and doing it anyway. To question ourselves requires a healthy ability to distinguish between what is true and what is not. What is valuable, and what is not. What is helpful, and what is not. And it requires us to think on a level where our egos maintain no illusion as to our strengths and deficiencies. It requires us to be humble.
It takes courage to be humble. To be humble is to have “a modest estimate of one’s importance”. The most striking examples of positive leadership come from leaders humble enough to question their own correctness on a daily basis and who actively engage with the people who put them there in the first place. Who put you where you are? Who gave you the position you hold? To be humble is to ask for the input, opinion and needs of those we team with. Repeatedly.
It takes courage to observe and to listen; to absorb, process and act on what you learn. Are you a leader of courage or comfort?
by Christen Killick
May 24th, 2021