Why the Importance of Challenging?
We need challenge because without something to push against, we won’t grow. Everyone who has worked out at a gym knows that. Muscles grow and develop when they are challenged, otherwise they atrophy. Challenge means pushing yourself, it means expending the effort to do more and/or to do better. Challenge then is required if we are to develop as persons and develop our skills. That’s why it is so important. And that’s why clients come for coaching!
Challenge is involved in all athlete events and there it’s obvious to see the need for a strong opponent. If all we test our skills against weak opponents, our best will not come out and will not arise. We need to wrestle against a worthy opponent, someone who is our equal, and who will test our mettle. That’s why challenge is the basis of all competitive games. While it is fun to play chess, tennis, basketball, etc. with a child, such play will not push you to do your best. You need more of a challenge than that.
Where there’s a challenge, there is a risk. Where there challenge there is also the phenomenon of taking a risk. So ask yourself or your client some risk questions:
Is there a risk? What’s at risk in what you are doing? What are you putting at risk? Are you risking time, effort, money, personnel, your reputation or what?
The contrast is playing it safe. The person who “plays it safe” by choosing small and easy goals is risking nothing and therefore playing small. Yet life becomes meaningful when there is risk. When there is risk, we seek to come more alive, more present, and more focused. We often measure the value of an experience in proportion to the risk that is taken. When a person plays himself small, he is risking success. That’s also one way to not “fail” since if you are not taking on much, there little chance of failing. Of course, that’s the coward’s way to live life.
At the point in his life when Abraham Maslow discovered that a non-directive approach to self-actualization does not work. That it will not occur “naturally,” he noted this: “The good of other people must be provoked.” (1966, p. 31). That is, people have to be challenged! They have to be provoked, called upon to extend themselves in order to bring out the person’s best. That’s what you facilitate as a coach—the direction where self-actualization occurs.
Further, to get into the flow zone, guess what you have to do? That’s right— take on a challenge. Rise up and you push yourself to the edge of your skills. That’s what Csikszentmihalyi discovered in his research about happiness. In the end he created a diagram to illustrate the dynamics involved in finding flow— challenge and competence. The integration of these two elements creates the “flow zone.” Yes, when you experience flow that is the sense that everything is just right and you are in the zone of optimum performance. Yet that flow is not “easy,” or “soft.” In fact, during the experience, people say that they feel that it was one of the toughest, most challenging things they have ever taken on. The happiness comes later. It results from knowing that you took on a challenge and met it.
In the experience of flow, you sometimes confronts daunting odds that you never thought you could handle and yet, in the end, you come out of it having demonstrated your mettle. By persevering in facing difficulties you enter the flow zone and becomes more of yourself.
How to Challenge As a Coach
1) Stop and check.
The most simple thing to do is to ask, “Is this challenging? Do you feel this coaching conversation today as a stretch for you? Am I provoking you sufficiently? What would need to happen for you to feel challenged in a way that will serve to unleash more of your potentials?”
2) Challenge your Client’s Clarity.
When you ask a clarity check question, then follow up. “Is that now clear? Can you make a picture from the words that describe the solution?” “Yes? Then tell me about what you see.”
3) Challenge your Client’s Sensitive Areas.
Challenge what is unspoken or sensitive in your client. Ask, “What are you thinking about that you have not said? What are you hoping that I won’t ask about or bring up? What about X —could that be emotional for you to go there?” “How would that be emotional for you?”
4) Reflect after the Coaching.
How am I doing in terms of awakening this person? Did I invite her to stretch? Is it time to do a little teasing with my client? How would I do that best? What does this client need to be challenged about?” “Am I disturbing my client’s peace and inducing states of discomfort?”
5) Challenge your client to face Reality.
Challenge your clients to face reality on its terms and check out if his or her mental maps and expectations are realistic. “Is that realistic?” “If you think it is, how is it?” “How will you be able to do that in that time-frame or with your current skills?”
Here’s a challenge to you as a coach— develop your challenging skills and create a great coaching practice!