Are you settling for the what’s working now?  Are you still doing what has always worked before?  Is it easier to stay with the tried and true…even though your results are falling off?  You may be ready to work at developing the The Prepared Mind skill of challenging, or learning to "question the obvious answers and the path of least resistance in favor of what is the right thing, given the circumstances, and who you are fundamentally, as a person or organization." 

If you want to avoid active inertia and irrelevance you’ll need to improve your challenging skills.  Where to begin?  Here are five key elements:

  • Know your values.  Often the pieces that need to be challenged are slightly off of what you hold dear.  In order to have congruence between values and goals you’ll need clarity.
  • Break rules that no longer apply.  Many of us are operating in settings where the rules (by-laws, policies, etc.) were established in a very different time.  In many cases they’re keeping us from doing what needs to be done.
  • Challenge yourself to improve.  It begins with you.  In order to be effective at challenging you’ve got to changing and open to change yourself.
  • Ask great questions.  I love this line: "Great questions separate the leaders from the followers (p. 146)." You’re only going to find the answers to the most important questions if they’re being asked.
  • List your assumptions, and visit them on a semiannual basis.  Underlying every opportunity for challenge are some assumptions that are outdated, invalid, incorrect, and just plain wrong.  Here’s another great line: "Just as high blood pressure is the silent killer of the circulatory system, bad assumptions are the silent killer of strategy (p. 146)."

There’s a lot in this idea.  Too much to wrestle with in one (or three) posts.  I’ll be back with more tomorrow on the topic.  In the meantime, you may want to pick up a copy of The Prepared Mind of a Leader.

Challenging: Pushing for Higher and Deeper Thinking