Challenge the Process without Blowing Up


You’re surrounded by stagnation because last week’s great idea is next week’s dying system. Systems defend themselves and gradually grow stale until crisis confronts and changes them.

Every system was someone’s great idea once.

Managing is establishing and protecting systems that deliver consistent results. Managers rightly say, “This is how we do it.” Leaders do more.

Managers tweak systems to enhance efficiency. Leaders don’t tweak, they challenge. There’s the rub.

Every challenge confronts someone’s great idea.

How to challenge without blowing up:

  1. Give in. Allow others to challenge your ideas. Adapt your thoughts. Organizational problems have more than one solution. Leaders who can’t adapt end up ineffective and alone.
  2. Expect reciprocity. Team members who never adapt are on their own team. Don’t be bullied. Ask team members to share a time when they gave in and remained positive.
  3. Stay focused. Challenges feel personal because you’re challenging someone’s good idea. Keep the goal in mind. Unfocused challenges feel like personal attacks.
  4. Jettison baggage. Use the future, not a failed past, to defend new ideas. Every time you criticize the past you attack those who created it. Focusing on an unsatisfactory past invites defensiveness.
  5. Expect resistance. Don’t take opposition personally.
  6. Expose rather than hide. Speak clearly and candidly about intentions, assumptions, and objectives. Manipulation produces resistance.
  7. Passion during; chilling after. Show loyalty and respect if you don’t win. Don’t sulk in the corner with your toys.
  8. Remain optimistic about others. Believe team mates seek what’s best, even when they disagree. (Important note: Forget optimism if you have a team mate who never gives in. See #2.)
  9. Do more than challenge. If all you do is challenge, you’re a jerk. Support others, express gratitude, and have some fun.
  10. Don’t keep pecking on the same tree. Find a next step and move on.

Successful leaders challenge the process before crisis arrives.

What are the ways not to challenge the process?

How can leaders effective challenge the process?

Note: The expression, “Challenge the process,” comes from, “The Leadership Challenge,” by, Kouzes and Posner.