Overworked but Under-Challenged

Bill Hybels kicked off the global Leadership summit for 2011 with a powerful and insightful keynote. Bill presented four specific areas that his organization is currently working through and tossed out some great questions for leaders to ponder. One of the most discussed issues that Bill raised is the idea that all leaders do their best work when they are in a challenge zone. Bill very correctly points out that leaders operate well when they are working just above their comfort level. There is a danger zone that we must avoid where, if we are too challenged, we will simply crash and fail hard. On the other hand, there are some leaders that are operating well bellow capacity. They are not being challenged, and Bill studiously points out that when we are in this place our leadership skills will begin to atrophy.

There is a lot of research out there to support Bills claims. It is true that we do our best work as leaders when we are working in a challenge zone. Research also supports the claim that over-challenged will lead to early productivity and then a total crash and failure. This all being true, there seems to be a significant point of clarification needed here that was not addressed by Bill:


As a leader, challenge is inspiring. Challenge has driven people to great things. Tasks, on the other hand, are draining. There is little energy and motivation from tasks. If you want proof of that, just look at the horrendous turnover in call centers. It seems that there is not only danger in being over-challenged, but also danger is masking too much work as a “challenge”. A little too much challenge will drive leaders forward, but a little too much work won’t do anytng but drain leaders of all motivation. It goes back to the old adage that being busy doesn’t really mean we are accomplishing much. A really busy leader does not equate to a challenged leader.

As we consider our roles as leaders and look at our challenge level, I encourage you to consider your actual challenge level and not simply your work load. Don’t operate in a place where you are just managing the amount of tasks you have. Operate in a real challenge zone that is just above your comfort level. Task lists and action items are great, but if you can boil down everything you need to accomplish to a simple task list than you probably don’t have enough real challenge in front of you. Don’t be overworked and under-challenged.


2 thoughts on “Overworked but Under-Challenged

  1. Valid observations here, particularly given I have always been sensitive to being busy and being effective. With hindsight I can now tell when I was enjoying the hustle and felt that I was getting through the challenge while there were other activities which felt like they just drained me. The point on call centers says it all.

    • micahyost says:

      Thanks for jumping in, Thabo. I share your interest in being effective and not just busy. I hate those days when it feels like you did a lot, but didn’t get a lot done!! đŸ™‚

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