How to Stretch People Without Breaking Them

I asked Mary to talk in front of a group. She texted back, “You are kidding, right?”

Later she said, “I nearly puked on my desk, when I got your text.”

Don’t judge by your strengths:

Speaking to groups is easy for me. Sure, I feel like a caged animal before I get started, but once we get rolling, it’s exciting.

I could say, “Mary, what’s the big deal? Organize your thoughts and get up and talk. I’ll help.”

Mary doesn’t want my help! She doesn’t want to talk in front of groups!  (Mary isn’t her real name.)

Judge people by their strengths, not yours.

  1. People feel misunderstood when you make light of something they struggle to do. It’s arrogant and disrespectful to say, “It’s no big deal,” when it is a big deal.
  2. Remember and respect strengths. Mary is great at organization, follow through, compassion, and one-on-one relationships. If I judge her by her passion for public speaking, she falls short. If I judge her by her strengths, she’s fantastic.
  3. Don’t feel superior because you have strengths others don’t have.
  4. Acknowledge the struggle and stretch people. You might say to Mary, “I know it’s hard for you to talk in front of groups. In this case, you’re the best person for the job. Will you do it?”

Stretch people – don’t break them.

Challenge kindly.

Respect reluctance.

Ask people to do hard things.

A few times a year I ask Mary to say something in public. People respond well to her. I only ask when she’s the best person for the job. It helps that we respect each other.

  1. Make the ask.
  2. Listen to the “No”.
  3. Respect the pain. “I know it’s hard for you.”
  4. Wait a moment and ask again.
  5. Honor their “Yes”. Respect their “No”.

What happens when leaders use their strengths to judge others?

How might leaders stretch people?

**Don’t miss the followup to this post: Arrogance and Other Concerns with Stretching People.