Most of us perform at our best when we have the right mixture of support and
challenge and this, more than perhaps at any other time, is a good time for us as
leaders to reflect on how we lead in this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex,
Take a look at the following matrix, taken from Ian Day’s and John Blakey’s book,
As leaders we best provide for our teams and individuals when we create a
culture of high support and high challenge. To have support without challenge is
to encourage ‘cosy club’ and to provide challenge without support creates too
much stress; both scenarios lower performance.
It is worth mentioning that challenge comes with trust and the more trust you
have as a leader, the more challenge you will be able to provide without entering
the over-stressed quadrant.
As a leader you may find yourself and your team in any of the four quadrants at
different times, but what is important is to be aware of the four quadrants and
where you are as a team.
Where is your team currently? Where are individual’s currently? Are they
experiencing cosy club, inertia, stress or high performance?
I would encourage you to make a note of your answers to the questions asked in
this blog and take some time to reflect on them. As a coach I believe it is in
asking questions that great thinking can take place.
Rate yourself 1-10 (where 10 is high) for the level of support you provide; your
default support setting?
Rate yourself 1-10 (where 10 is high) for the level of challenge you provide; your
default challenge setting?
What do you notice? What would need to happen for you to increase each of
these to where you would want them to be?
When a team faces new and difficult challenges, I have found that there can be a
temptation to reduce the amount of challenge in order to meet the level of
support that is available. An alternative to this could be to increase the amount
of support in order to meet the challenge. But by not increasing the amount of
support in a challenging situation there is a risk teams and individuals will move
into stress and reduce performance.
What could support look like? Here are some ideas to place alongside your own:
Provide mentoring or coaching
Postponing work deadlines in some areas
Allowing individuals to work from home
Reduce / Increase meeting times
Provide additional resources
What could challenge look like? Some ideas:
Setting courageous goals
Moving individuals out of comfort zones and into stretch
Asking for innovation and risk taking
Insist on greater levels of trust / challenge poor behaviours
Asking what the real challenge is when an individual presents a problem
Do something that has not been attempted before
As another exercise, write down the names of the individuals you lead and write
next to the names a number out of 10 for the amount of support you provide that
individual and another number out of 10 for the amount of challenge that you
provide that individual.
What do you notice?
What actions could you take in the light of this?
Here is the same support-challenge matrix, but with leadership styles for each
When we take time to consider the different levels of support and challenge we
provide to our teams, this also reflects back to us our current leadership style.
Here is an interesting question: what is it like to be led by you?
Growing as a leader involves increasing our self-awareness and being able to
What actions do you need to take as you move towards a greater liberator style
“One of the most important of all leadership skills is self-awareness”
Article written by Leadership Coach Ian White