Two Tools Every Leader Needs

Much of what we spend our time on in the Executive Core can be boiled down to two words: support & challenge.

What makes an effective leader?

We like to say that a good leader, or a “leader worth following”, is someone who understands how to accurately use support and challenge with those he or she leads. In essence, they use support and challenge to fight for the highest possible good in those around them.

As simple of a concept as this may be, the vast majority of leaders struggle with implementing it on a daily basis, and for good reason.

It’s hard.

In the heat of battle, time flies by, deadlines draw nearer, and the weight of reality sinks in faster than we’d like it to. I would venture to say that most leaders spend the majority of their time putting out the fires of today (more likely the fires of yesterday).

When the pressure of hitting goals is on, the DNA of workplace culture will show itself in all of its glory (or lack thereof).

Two Tools

At GiANT, we use visual tools and concepts to help leadership principles become more sticky and useful in the field. Today, I want to give you an illustration to help you with support and challenge and what it might look like to use each of them.

1. Support: Shield

When you think of supporting someone, I want you to think of a shield. As a leader you called to come to aid of your people and serve them. The use of support can look different depending on the situation, but at the core, support is used to encourage and protect for the sake of growth.

Oftentimes leaders who favor support over challenge will create a culture that feeds on verbal reinforcement and encouragement but loathes any sort of reprimand or conflict. Being an encouraging leader is a great thing, but if your leadership is weighted disproportionately in favor of support, you are not building a culture of growth, but rather one of entitlement and insecurity.

That’s why it’s important to balance out the amount of support offered with a healthy dose of it’s side-kick, challenge.

2. Challenge: Sword

Every leader needs a shield, and every leader needs a sword. Swords, just like shields, are necessary for building a culture of growth. As a leader, you are called to challenge those around you to strive for higher goals, become more competent, and to get stronger. Effective leaders use challenge to hold their teams accountable to a certain standard of excellence.

Where leaders typically become derailed is when the majority of their leadership is full of challenge with little to no support. The mindset here is that “My team needs to be pushed hard and I am not their mother. Growth only happens when you put people in tough situations, and that’s what I’m doing.” I get this, but it’s not the whole story.

Leaders who challenge and forget to support aren’t actually building a healthy culture of growth, but rather one of fear.

Challenge is good, but only when accompanied by a healthy amount of support.

3 Questions

  1. Which do you tend to lead with, support or challenge?
  2. What would it look for you to begin using both in a healthy manner?
  3. How can you bring this language to your team to help them to grow in their leadership?
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