When you propose a challenge, a real one, the reaction you get is one of wide eyed curiosity, with a slight undertone of panic when the full ramifications of that challenge sink in. “Do you think that’s possible? Really?” Ideally, the answer is “no” because that’s how we know it’s a challenge and not a request. Not in the sense that the challenge defies all logic and realism, but in the sense that it defies your client’s perceived limitations.
I’ve been reviewing written coaching assessments, which are part of the process for students completing their Coaching for Transformation certification training. One great piece of the assessment is to offer a challenge to two of the faculty. I love reading the challenges because they open my eyes to possibilities that are beyond my radar.
But as I reviewed the assessments this time, I was a little shaken to realize that many of the challenges posed weren’t “real” challenges. How do I know they weren’t real? Because I could say “yes” without blinking. How could they have gotten this far without this exquisite coaching skill? Did I miss conveying the value of a challenge?
Make your challenge explicit
Though a challenge is meant to push your client beyond perceived limitations, you have to be specific and explicit. “I challenge you to give up doing your life alone,” has all the makings of an energizing challenge, but anybody can say yes to it. It’s incomplete. A challenge must be doable!
“I challenge you to ask more people for support,” is not specific enough. How much is more? Specifically, what kind of support are you challenging them to seek?
For the challenge to be explicit, we need to add an action, such as, “Ask ten people for help with your HIV orphans project,” or “Find three partners to help you launch your project,” or “Ask five potential donors to contribute to your initiative to ban female genital mutilation.” Once you get a reaction, even if it’s hesitation, you can add, “by the end of the week.” Ramp it up!
If people say yes to our challenges right away, then we’re probably not challenging them—we’re making simple requests. If they gasp, sit up taller, or fall out of their chair, we’re probably zeroing in on their deepest desires.
The real power of challenges
A challenge is an expansion of making a clear, positive doable request, but there's another element—the person feels deeply seen by the challenger. A challenge isn't just about getting someone to take action on something important to them; it's a fierce form of empathy that supports people in connecting with their life force. When people experience deep empathy they usually enter a blissful state. But how do we help people take that blissful state forward and really integrate it into their lives? One example, “So you want more self love? I challenge you to embrace your inner antagonist and meditate daily to connect with what your antagonist really wants for you.”
The real essence of offering a challenge is about so much more. The beautiful first step of offering a challenge is to identify the lost parts of soul that a person is ready to reclaim... That’s what makes a challenge so much fun! From the place of supporting them to move toward being more of who they already are, we can take great delight in challenging old beliefs or assumptions, jolting them out of playing small or unleashing their passion. We can hold their highest dreams and what’s possible that they might not yet see for themselves.
A challenge is for the benefit of the receiver, not the giver. So it’s not about challenging your kids to pick up their socks, or your direct report to complete the project by Friday, because that’s about you and your needs. To make the challenge about the other, we let them know we see their dreams and their full potential We also express our belief in them. That’s how we take their breath away, because they start to see themselves anew.
A few more examples of challenges. I challenge you to:
We tie the challenge to the now—the words just spoken—and also to the client’s vision and goals. “You just mentioned how much you want to adopt a special needs child. So I challenge you to commit an hour a day going after it. Right now, make the space on your calendar to do the things you care about deeply.”
And now for my challenge to all of you! Come up with 3 challenges for yourself and post them here. I’d like to see some wildly outrageous, OMG kinds of challenges here. Are you game?
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