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Finding your Leadership Flow: Balancing Skill and Challenge

The savvy leader may help self and others enhance their leadership muscle by thinking through the following two words: skill and challenge. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi originated the concept of “flow” to describe peak experiences (for further reading see Csikszentmihalyi, 1997; 2003).  When the skill level of an individual appropriately matches, the challenge placed on that same individual, a delicate balance exists that has the potential to lead to a performer being in a balanced zone that has been connected to such aspects as increased concentration, improved mood, and enhanced communication.  When skill and challenge are appropriately matched, the risk of being overly anxious or overly bored is reduced, certainly an important aspect for morale building, job safety, and the leader-follower relationship.  


 Applied Leader Considerations: Managing Challenge and Skill

In your leadership journey, have you ever seen team members in an anxious or bored state? Maybe you have even been anxious or bored at times? If so, you may have wondered how to best manage such situations. Here are a couple of quick thoughts.

1- Managing Worry/Anxiety: Reduce challenges (if possible) and teach/communicate with anxious members by simplifying instructions, or clarifying directions.  A helpful reminder of relevant skills (strengths or successes), while redefining a potential setback as a learning opportunity may increase individual well-being and enhance future leader behavior.

 2- Managing Boredom/Lack of Focus: Challenging bored and distracted individuals, by granting advanced leadership roles, such as modeling instructions or taking on team responsibilities may be a first step.  If you find yourself directing often, try directing less, to allow team members to build autonomy and take further ownership of tasks at hand.  Modifying objectives to focus attention on keys to success and the main learning aspects may prove beneficial.

One simple idea to consider as you move forward in your leadership career is to move yourself and your crew toward the artful management of challenge and skill. As you assess the means to balancing these two ideas, reflection on self and others is crucial to building future leadership action.


Dr. Ira Hull Martin, Ed.D., C.P.C. has served mid, senior, and c-suite level executives, in the sport realm, he has served coaches, athletes, and administrators, and in the academic environment, he has consulted with institutions interested in character and leader development. He is the owner of prepare2perform. His work grounds itself in the academic disciplines of performance, social, and cognitive psychology, and business management principles. For more information on Dr. Martin, check out his bio.