By Amanda Downs

Finding your way as a leader is such a juggling act. Whether you intend it or not, people look up to you, all eyes are on you and your approach is impactful, whether you like it or not.

The balance of support and challenge that we bring to our our teams is business critical for us as commercial leaders. I’m sure, like me, you’ve worked with leaders at the two extremes.

  1. Too much support – you try to be everybody’s friend, you are well-liked, but find it difficult to separate social from business. You are so supportive that you find it difficult to delegate and end up doing all the work yourself. The most dangerous result of high support is that you, inadvertently, have ‘favourites’. These are the people who you see as needing extra attention and support, or that you simply like better.
  1. You are a driven and results focused. You have high standards and a capacity to get things done at pace. You assume that others are like you and bring plenty of challenge to the team. All good in a work environment, you think, but why then do people not get things done, or work to the standard you expect? That’s frustrating for you and sometimes that leaks out in your behaviour

Every leader is guilty of sometimes doing too much of one of the other, I know I am.

I started my first team leader job at the age of 26, as a Field Sales Manager for 10 middle-aged male sales reps. I wanted them to like me, I worked hard on that, being supportive, friendly, taking some of them into my confidence. Some were happy, some didn’t respond. So I swung to high challenge, I banged the table about sales targets, I was less than sympathetic to absences, and gave short shrift to ‘glass half-empty’ complainers. I learned quickly, with support and challenge from my sales director, that adult workers vote with their feet and simply don’t do things if they are badly led. The good news is that they do indeed do things if they are led well.

Your mindset as a leader comes from a mix of nature and nurture. How you have been brought up, your schooling, and, importantly, your previous bosses, all have an impact on your underlying beliefs about how to lead. The skill is to operate with both “High Challenge” and “High Support” in equal and consistent measure, and getting the perfect balance of these two extremes is the sweet spot for leaders. Your personality type will tend to dictate which one you use. Being aware of your natural preference and aligning them in powerful and equal combination is absolutely key. If you can do this as leader, your strategy will cascade more smoothly and your team and business will reach their full potential.

What happens if you get the balance wrong?

  1. High Challenge/Low Support
  • Too much challenge will be stressful for everybody
  • Results will at best be random and inconsistent – the stakes are high, and so are tempers.
  • Typically in this environment there is a rapid turnover of staff, as it’s all about results and not about the people – if you cant stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!
  1. High Support/Low Challenge
  • Too much support is often more comfortable for people, but issues are not dealt with directly, and people are never challenged to improve constantly.
  • This leads to moderate achievement, and under-achievers are pushed sideways but never out.
  • People tend to be very loyal because it is typically a nice place to work, but people aren’t pressed to achieve excellence.
  1. Low Challenge/Low Support
  • This leads to apathy
  • It really doesn’t matter whether anybody achieves or not – in which case you may as well pack up and go home.
  • This is a very unhealthy place to be, and if you’ve ever found yourself here, you know you need to find a new job or start out on your own as quickly as possible.

What happens if you use an equal and consistent balance of High Challenge/High Support

  • The team know where they stand and are clear about what’s expected. They know that you will support them to be their best. You will be rewarded with consistent high achievement
  • Your team will have a good reputation, with internal and external customers
  • People often reach their peak in your team, and others will be keen to join the team because of it’s reputation.

You will have your own experiences of getting the High Support/High Challenge balance right or wrong. The good news is that you can change your mindset once you are aware of it, so that your leadership has the impact you intend.

Our Underlying Beliefs Assessment will measure your Support/Challenge. We can take a snapshot of the impact you have on your team too, with our Underlying Beliefs 360 Tool.

To understand how you can shift your mindset contact Amanda Downs – Head of Commercial Leadership.

Uspire Network

To discover how commercial leaders from many different businesses handle change why not consider joining the Uspire Network, a unique programme of confidential peer-to-peer collaboration, commercial coaching and mentoring.