The third principle in the Five Leadership Principles is Challenge the Process. If you’ve been following along, through this month, I’m covering these five principles described in The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Kozner. These form the foundation for how I intend to show up as a leader in 2022. 

I guess challenging the process is always something that has come naturally to me, at least based on results. However, younger me, when sitting in meetings listening to leaders present concepts and processes and plans, would often think, “Well, that doesn’t make sense” or “I see all kinds of holes in this” but I was reluctant to speak out or ask questions. I figured I must be missing something, or that they must know better than me, or that I should just keep quiet and mind my own business. 

I learned, over the years, that this was short-sighted and self-centered. It doesn’t serve the organization. If I really cared, I needed to speak up when I saw a gap or problem or had an idea. And now that I am the leader in my own organization, I want team members who challenge the process. 

What Does it Mean? 

There are processes everywhere. If you’re part of a team of any sort, there are processes. If you’re a leader of a team, you have processes. Even if you just use software programs in your business, there’s a process attached to that! 

Challenging the process means we don’t just blindly accept things as they are. We recognize that everyone has blind spots, skills or knowledge gaps, and unique perspectives. Part of why we need to function in teams is that we all have strengths, and we all have weaknesses. Bringing your unique perspective to the table is one of the most important ways you serve the team and the organization.  

When we are trying to learn how to do sales, marketing, operations management, financial management, or any aspect of business, we want to do it “right”. This can lead us to just accept processes that we are taught without questioning. We want to build our businesses and are looking for the systems and processes that will “work” and get us the revenue that we desire. But the fact is that someone else’s system might just not be for you. Or maybe parts of it might work for you, but if you are in the mindset of challenging the process, you can get creative. Definitely learn from as many sources as you can, but feel free to take what you like and leave the rest. Put your own proprietary process together based on best practices, your unique business model, and what your gut says. 

How do I Challenge the Process? 

If something doesn’t make sense, say so! If you see a gap or a hole, say so!  If you have an idea, say so! If you’re working in a team of any kind, take an observational role and try to see things from the inside out. In fact, even if you are a solopreneur and you work by yourself, it is helpful for you to challenge the process at all times anyway.  

Things to ask yourself or others: 

  • Why: Why does this matter? Why does it work this way? 
  • What: What is important? What is missing? What else is possible? 
  • Who: who do I need to talk to in order to get a different perspective? Who should be involved in this project or process? Who is the right person for this job? 

What it Doesn’t Mean 

Challenging the process does not mean being oppositional, aggressive, cantankerous or obstructionist. It doesn’t mean you just oppose things for the purpose of stirring the pot, shaking things up or to show someone up.  

Go Forth and Challenge! 

Give it a try. 

Next meeting, take a step back and put yourself in the role of observer. Take a 40,000-foot view of the project, system or process and ask those questions listed above. Watch what happens! I think you’ll find that your work and your results are greatly enhanced when you are willing to challenge the process. 

 As always, until next time, stay on point!