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Valued or Harmful Challenge?

Bringing challenge can be an important way to help others think differently and more deeply, breaking through the blind spots and passive resistance we can all possess at times. It’s not the sole preserve of leadership but I believe it is an essential capability for all leaders.

In bringing challenge, you might be familiar with techniques like playing devil’s advocate, using data/feedback to confront, providing silence or even just disagreement. Sometimes an incisive question can challenge like nothing else.

Done skilfully, challenge can be incredibly valuable, creating perspectives, thinking and opportunities that can unleash something special.

Done poorly, challenge can be incredibly harmful, creating distrust, confusion and distance that constricts thinking and damages relationships.

As a leader and as an executive coach, my experiences of giving and receiving challenge have shown me that 3 principle factors are the difference between skilful and harmful challenge.  They are Intent, Insight & Skill.


Our language and presence reveals our apparent intent like nothing else… So what is your intent in bringing challenge?

Do you want to be proven correct or do you want to help other think differently and more deeply?

Are you willing to expose yourself and risk being wrong? 

Are you willing to be challenged by the response, so that it’s you who then thinks differently and more deeply

If your intent is to be “right”, unchallenged or with no appetite to share the risk that comes with challenge, then your intent will be seen for what it is… That is potentially harmful to the relationship.

If you’re bringing positive intent to be useful, create new awareness, and share the risk of being challenged then you will care about how you frame your challenge, show your intent and respond… That is something to value.


The accuracy of our statements and questions reveal our insight like nothing else… So what insight do you bring to challenge?

How well informed are you, really?

What are you noticing within and beyond the system that you can usefully bring to challenge? 

What are you noticing within yourself and in others that you can usefully bring to challenge? 

If your insight is ill informed, blinkered and without feeling, then truly there is no useful insight.  To pretend otherwise is potentially harmful creating distrust or even confusion.

If you’re bringing valuable insights with a sound basis, contextual awareness and usefully informed (by intuition or information) then you will show the value of your insight. Such perspective can be incredibly useful.


The quality and framing of our statements and questions reveal our skill like nothing else… So what skill do you show in your challenge?

How well constructed is the language that you use?

What range of techniques do you use to flex and adapt the challenge you want to bring?

How well attuned and responsive are you to the reaction your challenge creates?

If you aren’t skilful in how you bring challenge and follow it through then not only is any intent & insight is lost but you can become a cause of constrained thinking. That is potentially harmful to others.

If you are mindful, adaptive and committed then your skilful challenge will always be valued as you will create thinking and opportunities that can unleash something special.

So how capable are you at providing challenge?



  1. Pingback: Sharing and challenging? | People Performance Potential - September 25, 2015


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