Low-challenge leaders have an empathetic heart for people. They want to protect the people they are responsible for because they believe that everyone on the team expects them to. That protection is not the sole role of a leader and when it becomes the ultimate governor of decisions, it has a cost. Over time, a low-challenge leader will lose high-capacity people. The false narrative that all people on the team want to be protected from high-challenge is a common, but a large mistake. Some people join a team to be challenged. Others need inspiration to get to that point. When high-challenge people leave the team for lack of growth, the team is left with people that only expect low-challenge. At this point the low-challenge leader’s narrative becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not only will the team never reach its potential, but the leader will think that their leadership style is spot on. Does this make anyone else’s stomach churn?
I have noticed some common traits in low-challenge leaders. These leaders almost always feel over-challenged themselves. They are likely overworked and understaffed. That is the paradox they create for themselves. When they resent their own state of high challenge, they don’t want to be like the leader that placed them there. So they care for their team by making sure they never have to work as hard as they do. This decrease in challenge for the rest of the team centralizes the high challenge of the resentful leader. The resentment grows and gets projected in every ask they make. Requests become apologetic instead of inspiring. An uninspired team is less responsive. The lack of response proves the narrative that the ask is too much and thus the cycle continues.
It should be no surprise that teams led by low-challenge leaders never reach their potential. Everyone seems comfortable while everyone is blissfully unaware of what they are capable of. These low challenge leaders are often worried about asking too much because of the potential for burnout. They seem to think that a low-challenge environment, where no one has the opportunity to stretch and grow, is preferable to one that would potentially cause someone to burnout from their effort. Burnout is rough but it’s not guaranteed. Low-challenge environments guarantee the tragedy of unrealized potential and they disguise it as leadership defending the plight of their team.
Some leaders are uncomfortable about asking for large efforts or high-challenge. This reveals that the leader doesn’t think much about the capacity of those they lead. There is an arrogance in this type of leadership that limits the entire team. The leader is arrogant enough to think that they can know how far each person is willing to go. This is a type of control that keeps everyone on the team behind the leader’s willingness to grow. What if a high challenge would cause the leader to go somewhere they aren’t comfortable in going?
Whether or not I ask for a teammate’s help reveals a lot about how I feel about myself and my team. If I feel like I shouldn’t ask for help, I believe that I am capable of making a better decision on my own. This reveals that I think much more of myself than I do of another teammate because I am not only sufficient for the task, but my teammate has nothing beneficial to add. Asking for help is not an admission of incompetency, but rather an acknowledgement of why the team came together in the first place.