Rebel vs. Challenger

The word rebel typically has negative connotations. The dictionary states that a rebel is:

“a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or leader.”

However, this word is often used to ‘fondly’ describe the antics of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and others who didn’t follow convention and are now reaping the rewards. If we look at the etymology actually what we should be calling these entrepreneurs and business leaders are positive challengers. By challenging in the right way we get disruption, change and development.

“testing one’s abilities; demanding”
“inviting competition; provocative.”

Challenging is something that we were not brought up to do. At school the teacher is right. You are told not to answer back. Not to be a ‘know-it-all’ by telling people what you know and challenging what they’ve just said. Yet ironically this is what the majority of the most successful leaders do – they challenge convention.

It wasn’t until I did my Masters that I was told to challenge the lecturer – a revelation. Such a revelation that it took a good few lectures to build up my courage to challenge, whilst I struggled to throw off the embedded behaviour of doing what I was told.

This is also not just about challenging others but also challenging ourselves. When you’ve done a piece of work be it a meeting or proposal. Do you sit back and go ‘what could I have done differently’? Probably not as much as we should, quite simply because we are running onto the next task – getting things done, doing what is expected of us.

To succeed, you need to innovate. To innovate you need to challenge. To challenge you need to know you can do it and importantly how to do it. I am not suggesting we charge into the office meetings as the ‘no-man’. It is about being a positive challenger to get the best solution. Questions like:

‘What do we really want to achieve by doing this?’
‘Why wouldn’t we do it another way?’
‘Is this any different to the rest of the market?’
‘Are we really listening to what our customers want?’

Let’s start teaching our children how to positively challenge. Build confidence in our students to challenge and motivate our employees to be challengers. I think we’ll be surprised at the results!

“…Perceptions differed in many ways, too. On progress days, people perceived significantly more positive challenge in their work. They saw their teams as more mutually supportive and reported more positive interactions between the teams and their supervisors. On a number of dimensions, perceptions suffered when people encountered setbacks. They found less positive challenge in the work, felt that they had less freedom in carrying it out, and reported that they had insufficient resources. On setback days, participants perceived both their teams and their supervisors as less supportive…”

The Power of Small Wins, HBR

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