Everyone wants to be challenged

“The way to get things done is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid, money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.” (Charles Schwab)

If you do a Google search on “what makes people happy at work?”, you will get 738 Million results. I didn’t take the time to read them all, but I did browse a few, and I have done some reading on this in the past. One item that seems to come up on many of the surveys and studies that rank among the top factors, is doing meaningful, and challenging work. The wording may vary, but that theme comes up again and again.

Speaking from my own experience I can tell you that I have been most engaged at work, and happiest at work, when I have been involved in projects and assignments that challenged me, and that I perceived as meaningful. Now, what is meaningful can vary from person to person, but what is the same among them is that the person doing the assignment believes that what they are doing makes a difference to someone, or to the organization.

Charles Schwab’s quote fits into this idea of job satisfaction nicely. What he is saying is that when people feel challenged, when they have a sense of competition at work, they will excel.

Think about it from your own perspective. Would you rather have a job where you had little to do, and spent most of your time in tedious tasks, or completely idle; or would you like to have a job that challenged you – either mentally or physically – to do the best you can? You might be tempted to say that you’d like the job with lots of idle time, and that might even be nice for a short time, but over time you’d become bored and lethargic.

As a leader, it is part of my job to inspire people to excel. I have found that when they have work that stretches them, and makes them want to do better each day, they are happier, and the results flow in. Sometimes there are more tedious assignments that have to get done. The challenge there is for me and them to see how that assignment fits into the larger picture of our department or our company. In so doing, we create that link in our minds that lets us know that what we are doing matters.

In this section of principles, we are trying to Win People to Our Way of Thinking. This is the last of the principles in this section, and it is the one that we can use to close the deal. Once we have reached this point, and we are about to forge agreement, we can issue a challenge to our colleague. That challenge will be that together we will execute on the agreement we’ve reached.

Some people who look at this principle might shy away. They might say that there is too much competition in the world, and we shouldn’t be so driven to compete with one another. They have a valid point, and even Schwab helps guide us in the quote. The competition we are talking about here isn’t the kind fought on the playing fields of sport, and it isn’t about clawing our way to the top while trampling others. It is about the healthy sense of competition with ourselves. It is about the challenge.

When you are ready to execute on a plan with the person that you’ve worked hard to reach agreement with why not…

Principle 21 Throw down a challenge.

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