Chapter 4 - The Challenger


Summary Know-it-alls set directions to show off their knowledge - slow. Multipliers set provocative but possible challenges, sparking effort and emotions. 3 steps: seed the opportunity, lay down a challenge and generate belief. Ask more questions, set the 'impossible', change the scene and SWAT team a set of low-hanging fruits.

Liz runs through an example of a young executive who understood a company intimately and knew how well it could take on the upcoming challenge. His success comes through getting more out of everyone, inviting them to participate in achieving the impossible. A "challenger" ๐Ÿ‘

She contrasts this with another genius executive, who loved outsmarting others and staying in control still making major decisions despite being chairman of board. He only asks questions that he knows the answers to, would stay up all night research an area to one-up another, and enjoyed making a fool out of people. A "know-it-all" ๐Ÿ‘Ž

Operating as a "know-it-all" is a diminisher behaviour. It's a natural constraint and others will tip-toe and produce results for you, vs for the best outcome. A Challenger finds opportunities that are just within a stretch of an organisation (the limit), thus developing a company competency for tackling challenges.

The mind of a know it all ๐Ÿ‘Ž

Assumptions: I need to know it all, I'm here to provide the answers

Actions: Researches and gives subordinates answers

Conclusions: You see! If not me, they wouldn't have figured it out.

Cycle repeats and company intelligence recedes.

The mind of the multipler ๐Ÿ‘

Assumptions: With challenge, people get smarter and stronger

Actions: Asking bold questions; incrementing steps to success for teams to carry out

With no expectation to give answers, the multiplier can ask bold questions.

Three practises of a challenger


1) seed the opportunity

2) lay down a challenge

3) generate belief

1) Seed the opportunity ๐ŸŒฑ

Multipliers (Ms) understand that challenges stretch and grow intelligence. They provide just enough information. Even if there is a clear vision, the leader doesn't give it to people. The vision and tasks are allowed to be discovered. When people see the need, leader scan get out of the way, because they'll deepen their understanding of the issues at hand.

Challenge the assumptions. Ms ask questions that challenge fundamental assumptions and logic. Figure out the assumptions the company has and flip the disaster scenario on them.

Strategy is all about understanding and challenging assumptions C.K. Prahalad

Reframe problems. Don't do things the same way. Seek (operational) partners to problem solve with you.


Personal comment Bit of a weak point here, doesn't give much eye-opening or actionable material.

Create a starting point. And nothing else. As people embark on a journey of finding opportunity for themselves, they develop intellectual curiosity and a desire to step in and get involved.

2) Lay down a challenge ๐ŸŽฏ

After seeding opportunity and intellectual curiosity is waiting to be applied, mulitpliers snap into further action. They establish a compelling challenge, offer hard questions and then step back.

Extend a concrete challenge.

"If you could get out of this environment, what would you do?"

"What would it take for you to do that?"

"Where should we start?"

Ask the hard questions. Diminishers (Ds) give answers, Ms ask hard questions that cause people to think & re-think, and mobilise them to gain new knowledge to answer the question. A visualisation is an elastic band. You set one side of the elastic band in the right direction and it's their job to move the other end toward it - reducing the tension. A bit like a electric potential. "Why are we in this business?", "Why do we deserve to be in this business?", "What would it take to be better than our competition?".

Let others fill the blanks. Asking the hard questions will stir chaos, don't back down. Set a tight time frame and adjust your expectation of the answer's fidelity. "Give me an 30% answer so we can figure out if we invest into a 50% answer".

3) Generate belief ๐Ÿ™

Helicopter down. Explain the direction at the 30,000ft level as well as the 1,000 ft level. That proof point shows that it can be done.

Co-create the plan. The more the plan is part of one's own creation, the more likely the belief in its viability is high. Oracle let 250 of its senior leaders co-create the corporate strategy, building collecting will and energy.

Orchestrate an early win. Small wins are entry points that generate belief towards greater stretch challenges. Liz describes a phenomenon within an organisation which feels like the step before you walk a high-rise tight-rope. It's when the company's energy is close to a tipping point. Ms orchestrate the process to shift the company's weight.

The diminishers approach to setting direction ๐Ÿ‘Ž

They set a direction that showcases their knowledge - safe zone.

Telling what they know. Ds consider themselves thought leaders, but they don't invite contribution which suffocates everyone else in the room.

Testing what you know. Questions become devices to make a point, rather than to explore insight = stress.

Telling people how to do their jobs. Rather than shifting responsibility, they remain in charge, dictating direction, questions and answers. Superior knowledge may be rewarded within a career ladder, but it is only going to eventually crumble. Would you rather increase your own IQ by 10% or everyone in the company's by 1%?

Diminishers create idle cycles. People stay idle waiting for the manager to make decisions - wasted potential. M's create more and faster cycles. With a clear view of latent resources, M's don't want to waste them! They're encouraged to work ahead and be smarter than the leader.

Becoming a challenger.

M's practice intellectual curiosity - they're fundamentally curious and spark learning for others. In a business context they're asking "why" - seeking deep understanding. "I wonder if we could do the impossible?"

The starting block

Take the extreme questions challenge. Stop the habit of answering questions, and throw back questions instead. You'll find a lot of smart answers. If this may come across wrongly, let people know you're trying something new out.

Create a stretch challenge. Give the team a mission impossible. "How do we accomplish X by Y date with only Z resources?". Set a challenge, create a culture of belief and step back. She claims you'll get the answer "exhausting but exhilarating" but they'll come back for more.

Take a bus trip. Change the scene, get close to the operations or customers. These experiences reveal the need or the gaps.

Take a big baby step. aka an early win, a symbolic victory, the low hanging fruit. Problem is that these fruits are often taken by the leaders. Create a team, make it noticable to management but not neccessarily visible to the company. Letting people see results increases hope, shifting the weight towards the positive tipping point.

A good stretch

"If you have a task to perform, and are vitally interested in it, excited and challenged by it, then you will exert maximum energy. But in the excitement, the pain of fatigue dissipates and the exuberance of what you hope to achieve overcomes the weariness" Jimmy Carter

M's create provocative but possible challenges, elliciting effort and emotion. Giving 50% could still be exhausting and giving 100% exhilarating. Liz defines burnout as not working too hard, but losing sight of the results of their hard word. This is a funny line: "Good leaders don't just give people more work, they give them harder work". (I'm sure Amazon follow this one). Ask for more, and you'll get more.