On Broccoli and Peaches – How to Give Challenge and Support
If support is a peach, challenge is broccoli. Peaches are good. Broccoli is good for you.
An abundance of peaches makes people complacent and feeble. But too much broccoli makes people disheartened and frustrated.
The promise of a peach makes broccoli almost enjoyable.
Challenge and Support
Leaders who support too much:
- Don’t want to inconvenience anyone.
- End up doing things by themselves because they don’t ask people to do hard things.
- Feel frustrated because others don’t help.
- Spend too much time helping and not enough time stretching people.
- Encourage dependence.
- Imply, inadvertently, that others are incompetent.
Leaders who challenge too much:
- Pressure people without thinking about current workload.
- Expect performance from weakness. Leaders who challenge too much don’t care about talent, just results.
- Neglect training and development. Just get it done.
- Complain that people don’t rise to higher standards and deliver better results.
- Cause fatigue.
- Invite resistance. The people you continually push – without giving support – eventually push back or leave.
Support is more than holding hands:
Support enables performance.
USA TODAY reports that 76-percent of parents admitted they still remind their adult children of deadlines, including schoolwork. 74 percent said they made appointments for them, including doctors’ appointments.
Coddled people crumble when confronted with challenge.
Untested people don’t know what they’re made of.
Challenge is more than making demands:
- Believe they are superior when they’re inferior. Challenge humbles.
- Devalue the expertise of others. Challenge enables respect for others.
- Fail to appreciate and anticipate the challenges of high performance. Challenge sheds light on reality.
(Adapted from the Dunning-Kruger Effect)
Challenge that’s comfortable is useless. Challenge that’s overwhelming causes defeat.
Challenge AND support enable people to step into discomfort.
Support includes training, mentoring, and coaching when people take on new challenges.
What happens when leaders give too much support?
What happens when leaders give too much challenge?
How might leaders find an effective balance between challenge and support?
‘Snowplow parenting’ is killing kids’ life skills, poll shows (usatoday.com)
How Parents Are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
(PDF) Maintaining High Challenge and High Support for Diverse Learners (researchgate.net)
What happens when leaders give too much challenge?
One effect of too much challenge is that people form the impression that there is no help or support, and that you are basically on your own.
Another is when peaches are promised, but all that gets delivered is cabbage. This builds cynicism about the reward/support system.
Thanks Mitch. Love the peaches and cabbage contrast. 🙂 Sometimes I think I want to be alone. But after awhile of being alone, I realize others are important. Needing others actually takes us further than not needing them.
What happens when leaders give too much support? People get complacent. They wait to be told what to do and how to do it.
What happens when leaders give too much challenge? People feel overwhelmed and stressed. That impacts their ability to learn and be creative.
How might leaders find an effective balance between challenge and support. Be reasonable and establish challenges that are a bit outside the person’s comfort zone. Ask them–What help and support can I give you on this project?
As people’s confidence grows they are willing to take on bigger and bigger challenges.
Thanks Paul. One of the things I take from your comment is to ask. Just ask what feels supportive. For example, What might I do to support you moving forward?
Such a fine line between independence and complacency. As Leaders we have to give and take, sometimes it means telling someone to research the items as if we are not here, other times in the essence of getting things done we hold their hands and tell/teach/mentor them with everything. So if we are building leaders we need to learn what, when, why and how to present challenges to people, keep the peaches sweet and the Broccoli on its own side of the plate.
Thanks so much Dan, really helpful post! The balance between support and challenge I am thinking is fluid – contextual regarding who, what, timelines, etc.
As a leader, we cannot always control how “much” there is to accomplish – some seasons are busy, deadlines loom, new projects need to be launched in a timely manner…and seeking to not overwhelm folks by pretending the broccoli isn’t there doesn’t make go away. And as you said, doing the things yourself creates all kind of other issues.
I have found that folks are significantly less stressed when they know WHY – they know why it’s on their plate, why the urgency, why the real or perceived constraints. So providing that IS part of the support – not doing it for them, not removing it, but giving them the information and tools to be successful (and one of the biggest tools is access to the leader for guidance and, well, support!). And the more transparent you are willing to be with the information (reasonably), the more they trust that the challenging task is achievable, and the more you listen and check in, the more they know you care that they are successful, and that’s it’s own spark, and now there is gooey cheese on the broccoli.
My reflection/ question – as a busy and challenged leader myself, how can I maintain all that I have just described for those who look to me for direction. That is, not neglecting this important aspect of leadership by personally getting too busy or overwhelmed, knowing that challenge without proper support or perceived benefit is, as Mitch says, just cabbage??
I have a lime green post-it note on my laptop with two questions: 1: Why do you need to know that? 2: How do you plan to use the information? I started doing that because too often my response to being asked for the time is to tell the person how to make a watch.
Try something similar for this: figure out one or two questions that will keep you on track. Perhaps something like 1: Do you understand what is expected of you? 2: What else do you need from me before you can get started? Even if you don’t explicitly ask the questions, the reminder will help keep you on track to not take over the task yourself and to give the other person the support they need.
I have been hoping to learn more about this important balance. This is very helpful post. Love the comments as well – really helpful
To become more competent workers, leaders need to challenge their employees to do the tough job, but be supportive of them and helpful in the right amount to get the desired result. I enjoyed your quadrant graphic regarding too much or too little support or challenge. Being apathetic towards a job doesn’t do anyone any good and can drag on moral. Being stressed about trying to complete a challenging goal creates bad results. Being able to find that happy medium where a leader can let the employee do their job while still giving them that support that they need to complete the task has to be extremely difficult to find.
When leadership provides too much support (peaches), employees do not grow outside of their comfort zones. Employees may feel a lack of motivation to improve or do more. They may also have a false sense of their capabilities or their contributions. Leaders who support too much are also at risk of burnout or taking on the additional work their direct reports could have (and should have) completed.
When leaders give too many challenges, they may not be able to understand their employees’ skills or the availability of resources needed to complete the challenges. Employees facing too many challenges may be unable to prioritize or complete work, resulting in poor performance and a general poor experience within the company. The leaders, themselves, are probably overwhelmed with business performance demands.
Striking a balance between challenges and support requires communication and transparency between employees and their leaders. Leaders should fully understand their employees’ current abilities and where they want their next challenges to take them. Challenges shouldn’t be tests, such as a method to “weed out” employees who do not want to undertake crushing amounts of work that is not within their expertise or experience. Challenges should be steps to help the employee make progress to their career goals.
This blog on challenge and support is one that I need to bookmark. My organization assigned myself to take a DSIC assessment to understand personality and behavior assessment for myself. I have taken the DISC assessment two times and had a common theme on both times which is having a steadiness (S) personality which equalities to a supportive personality. My first time taking the DISC I had a SC (steadiness and conscientiousness) personality and the second time I was a SI (steadiness and influence). I believe part of the change was due to work responsibilities. The 6 items listed for leaders who support too much is very correct for my personality. It is something that I must work on especially number 2 which is “Leaders who support too much: End up doing things by themselves because they don’t ask people to do hard things.” As a leader I must put trust in my people and challenge them on the hard task.