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Challenge Versus Support

Leadership is challenging. If we support the people we lead too much, they become weak. However, if we challenge them too much they become upset and discouraged. The Goldilocks Principle needs to be applied to get the balance “just right!”

I have long been a fan of behaviour management guru Bill Rodger’s concept of teachers being warm – demanding. Warm and friendly enough to show that they care but demanding enough to have expectations and standards for their students. Too warm and friendly and the students will walk all over them but too demanding and the students will disengage and resent the teacher. You can read more about it HERE.

Dan Rockwell presents a similar challenge for leaders. If we provide too much support for the people we lead, by holding their hands and doing things for them, they become weak. If we are too challenging in our leadership by being critical or overloading them, then they become discouraged.

According to Rockwell,


  1. Don’t want to inconvenience anyone.
  2. End up doing things by themselves because they don’t ask people to do hard things.
  3. Feel frustrated because others don’t help.
  4. Spend too much time helping and not enough time stretching people.
  5. Encourage dependence.
  6. Imply, inadvertently, that others are incompetent.


  1. Pressure people without thinking about current workload.
  2. Expect performance from weakness. Leaders who challenge too much don’t care about talent, just results.
  3. Neglect training and development. Just get it done.
  4. Complain that people don’t rise to higher standards and deliver better results.
  5. Cause fatigue.
  6. Invite resistance. The people you continually push – without giving support – eventually push back or leave.

In golf or tennis terms hitting the “sweet spot”. Is when we hit the ball in the centre of the club face or racquet. That is when you get the most power and control.

The role of leaders is to provide the right environment, support, guidance and resources for the people we lead to be able to do their best work. That is the “sweet spot” of leading through others.