Are you Purposefully Supporting and Challenging your team?


The future is created by individuals who understand that their effort guides them to the accomplishment of their purpose. In the prospect of failure they don’t get defeated, but rather re-energized from the learning that comes from it and the opportunity to do things differently, trying harder and more purposefully.

To make the learning process occur at its most effective, transformational and productive level, Productive Leaders need to Support and Challenge individuals and organizations, keeping the purpose as the true north that drives decisions.

Individuals need to believe in themselves in order to commit to achieving higher levels of performance in the organization. Commitment to an organization begins with commitment to oneself. A person who is not trustworthy for himself will not be trustworthy for the organization either. To achieve that level of trust, individuals and organizations work together in a continuous process of building skills, one for the business growth and the other for personal and professional development.

Productive Leaders bring the best out of people to achieve this endeavor. They find the best in people, not the worst and even use Appreciative Inquiry as an integrated approach to understand the best in people when they have performed at their maximum productive capacity. They seek to create a “moving balance”, because they know that life creates contrasts, therefore promoting movement towards higher levels of development. For individuals, this “moving balance” comes from the continuum of Support and Challenge by Productive Leaders.

The theory of Support and Challenge was formulated by Nevitt Sanford to foster students’ development. It establishes the relation of support and challenge as drivers for professional and personal growth and development. Sanford formulated that individuals bring their best when they are continuously supported and challenged in some sort of effective balance.

Productive Leaders know that there is one additional component to that Support – Challenge balance. This additional component is purpose. There is no development and growth when the purpose is not clear. This process of support and challenge also entails the need for individuals to explore and discover their own purpose and potential.

The Support and Challenge Grid developed by Sanford established four quadrants, as seen in the picture below.

When the balance of Support and Challenge is driven by individual and organizational purpose, then it looks more like this:

What is the meaning of each quadrant in light of the Productive Leadership Framework?

  1. Disengaging environments, in which Support and Challenge are low, therefore promoting a lack of connection of the individual with the self-purpose and the organization’s purpose. Low Support and Challenge drives individuals to low morale and a lack of energy for personal and professional growth
  2. Stagnating environments, in which Support is high, but Challenge is low. This might be one of the most interesting cases to analyze. In Stagnating Environments individuals are in their comfort zone. They might be bored, yet safe and relaxed that the tasks that they are performing don’t stretch their capacities because they have maximize the efficiency to carry out the highly routinized chore that fall within this quadrant. The Performance Management and Reward Systems of most organizations promote stagnating environments, because they are focused on rewarding individuals to perform specific tasks in very efficient way, but not necessarily in the most effective, transformative and productive way. Productive Leaders need to break this paradigm and bring people out of their comfort zone, which means increasing their own responsibility as leaders to challenge more
  3. Retreat environments, in which support is low and challenge is high. This is another ineffective quadrant. Leaders and organizations cannot expect that individuals perform at their highest levels when they don’t have the information and their needs satisfied. I am going back to the topic of how to satisfy individuals need later on. However, Productive Leaders understand that individuals need their support to explore and discover their own purpose and align it with the organization’s purpose. This process doesn’t happen just because. It needs the active engagement, participation and commitment of the leaders. Individuals who are constantly challenged, yet not supported, tend to be unproductively stressed, high levels of cortisone making their motivated behaviors ineffective and unproductive, anxious, etc. People who are in this quadrant might just withdraw from the situation.
  4. Maximum Growth environments, with high Support and Challenge. To maximize the results of the process of Support and Challenge, Productive Leaders need to be totally engaged in the development of the individuals (and the organization). Maximum Growth entails a continuum of learning and innovation to foster personal and professional renewal as a means to grow. This, at the same time, requires Productive Leaders to build trust (through integrity and caring), so that individuals feel and understand that high Support and Challenge is not only driven to maximize business results, but to promote people’s development and, as a result, business growth.
  5. Extended Maximum Growth: aligning people’s development and business growth around a purpose is the most powerful element that Productive Leaders have to work with. Maximum Growth is not a permanent state, but rather constant changing to keep nurturing the Growing-Self, as well as bringing higher levels of growth for the organization. When it is purpose-driven, Support and Challenge allows individuals to reach higher level of performance at one moment, but also providing the energy to promote organizational and individual renewal and change.

Productive Leaders work on the quadrant of high Support and Challenge, and create a positive, self-reinforcing cycle of personal and professional growth, in which individuals have their needs met and their purpose clear, and therefore align productively with the organization’s purpose to maximize business results.

What can you do to further People’s Development and Business Growth by purposeful Supporting and Challenging your team? How do you bring the best out of your team?

In my next post I will describe the Continuum of Learning and Change. Please, share to invite your colleagues or friends to read more about the fascinating world of Productive Leadership.

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