[February 27, 2018] On a muddy flat of palm trees, sand, and grass, U.S. General Peter W. Chiarelli, Commander 1st Calvary Division, was asked by an Infantry Squad Leader what he thought was the best thing he could do for the unit. This sergeant and his teammates had been under sustained enemy contact during the early part of the Iraq War. General Chiarelli answered him by saying leadership means to challenge people to do more.
I’m sure that sergeant thought the response was odd because he expected an answer that was more about supplies, soldiers, weapons, engineer support, etc. to help. Often we depict leaders as those who provide the resources to do our jobs better. That is true about good leadership. Also true is that great leaders go beyond this.
“Success is due to our stretching to the challenges of life. Failure comes when we shrink from them.” – John C. Maxwell, Author, Speaker, and Pastor
Great leaders challenge people to do more than they would expect themselves. That’s what John C. Maxwell was talking about when he used the phrase “stretching to the challenges of life.” Recently I ran across an article at LinkedIn that was about this very idea (read it here). The author states that one way to challenge people to do more is to give them challenges just above their competences.
Valentina Lorga, the author, is right but in my opinion she doesn’t go far enough. To truly challenge people, one has to ask them to do something they don’t believe they can do. In an earlier blog post I wrote that leaders in the military frequently give their soldiers tasks that are impossible to do. Impossible tasks might be a little exaggerated here since I really mean impossible in their minds.
Stretching our mental intellect, resilience, and wisdom is hard to do. It’s not normal to humans to have this done to them; the natural tendency is to resist it and as children we threw temper tantrums, cried, and threw up on the floor. In the end, however, the stretching of our minds were good for us.
This stretching of the mind never ends for those lucky enough to have great leaders who challenge us to do more than we think we can. That is what great leadership is about.