Support and challenge—coaching gets the balance right

People perform at their best when they have the right levels of support and challenge in their work.   So how do leaders know when they’ve got the mix right?

Being overly supportive can leave people feeling comfortable and passive in their work.  Too much challenge can lead people to become highly stressed and unproductive.  Leaders who don’t provide challenge or support are likely to find their team to be apathetic and unresponsive.  When leaders strike the right balance between support and challenge, their team will be highly motivated, proactive and achieve great results.

Sounds simple?  Not quite.  Because people have different tolerances and responses, what’s challenging to one person may completely stress someone else.  Equally, what’s intended to be supportive can occur as debilitating and disempowering.  What works in one situation doesn’t always translate to another.   The trick to mastering this balancing act is to stop trying to guess what a person needs and instead start asking them.

Having regular one-on-one coaching sessions with members of your team provides a systematic way of tailoring the level of support and challenge you provide.  Here are some powerful coaching questions you can ask:

To challenge:

  • What would be a stretch goal for you?
  • How can you lift your performance higher?
  • What project/task would motivate you?
  • What new and different duties would challenge you?
  • What more do you need to do to master this task/skill?
  • How can you push your professional boundaries further?
  • What do you think you’re doing well, and where do you think you could improve?

To support:

  • What do you need to improve/achieve more?
  • What do you most need help with?
  • What does being well supported look like to you?
  • What would help you be more confident?
  • What lessons can you learn from what’s happened/what you’ve achieved?
  • What ideas/information are you looking for from me?

By asking powerful coaching questions you’ll quickly work out the right sort of challenge and support each person needs.  You’ll then be able to make suggestions or give examples of your own experience so they can benefit from your knowledge and skills.  You will also find it easier to give encouraging or re-directive feedback that will be valuable and motivating.

Coaching gives people the opportunity to think about what they need to be successful and how they can do more than they previously thought.  Through coaching, you can find the right mix of support and challenge to motivate and engage each and everyone of your reports.

Julie Treanor heads Catapult Coaching. Catapult offers coach development training and one-on-one coaching. To learn more contact