27- Surround yourself with people who challenge you

Surround yourself with people who challenge you

A Lesson from Legend Buzz Aldrin

A few months ago I had challengethe honor of meeting Buzz Aldrin. He was the second man to walk on the moon during Apollo 11’s historic mission. Although most people recognize him as the man behind the visor in the iconic photograph Neil Armstrong snapped, his contributions to science and technology are much more far-reaching.

As evidenced by the child who touches the hot stove burner, and learns not to repeat the mistake, most of us learn from our own experience. However, when a legend such as Buzz Aldrin shares his or her own experiences, you have a unique opportunity to learn from another person. This is the first of a six part blog series that focus on lessons from legend Buzz Aldrin. These lessons include: 1) Surround yourself with people who challenge you, 2) Never lose sight of your goals, 3) Mentors are important, 4) Clear communication is critical to success, 5) Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes, and 6) Nonlinear thinking is how innovation occurs.

Surround yourself with people who challenge you

As motivational author, Jim Rohn said, “You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” While there is no scientific way to prove this hypothesis, both Buzz Aldrin’s and my own personal experience confirm that to succeed and grow, you need to be around people who set the bar higher. Buzz often talks about his experience at West Point. Did you know that the man who made such an enormous impact on space exploration and helped write American history graduated third in his class? We can all agree graduating from West Point with a B.S. in Military Engineering is an honor in itself. However, do you think that Buzz would have reached his full potential if not consistently surrounded by people that encouraged him and challenged him? Luckily, we will never know. Attending an institution long known for accepting and training the best and brightest young people, and producing hundreds of notable alumni, contributed to Buzz’s growth.

Most of us do not make conscious choices to spend time with people who challenge us. As a high school sophomore I was blessed to have a field hockey coach that provided me my first opportunity to choose. A few days after try-outs she called me to her office and told me that I could be part of the junior varsity team, which meant I would certainly play the majority of each game. Alternatively, I could join the varsity team and would likely only play a few minutes the entire season. My parents raised me to seek out challenges so I didn’t need time to think about the decision, I immediately told her I preferred to be on the varsity team. Although the first few weeks were tough, I raised my skill level and earned a spot on the starting lineup that season.TSEliot-Challenge

Just like in sports and at West Point, when your peers challenge you the benefit is tremendous. Surround yourself with people you can learn from with these three tips. 1) Engage people that compliment your weaknesses, 2) Be open to challenges, and 3) Be gracious and pay it forward.

Engage people that compliment your weaknesses.

No one can be an expert in everything. In fact, most of us tend to work on tasks that we like to do and we believe we do well. Unless your job is to be an expert at one thing, there are areas of weakness that must be improved for you to be successful. It may be difficult for you to identify your areas of strengths and weakness. I recommend starting by making a list of tasks that you enjoy performing. Next to it, write all of the tasks that are part of your daily job, but that you don’t enjoy. For many people, the list of professional tasks that they enjoy performing naturally fall into a category of strengths. However, the items on the list that they do not enjoy fall into one of two categories. The first is ignorance; you don’t like the task because you don’t know how to do it or you don’t understand it. The second is boredom; you understand the task and are proficient at it, but you aren’t fulfilled when you perform it.

If the task falls in the boredom category and it is one of your assigned duties, you need to complete it. However, if it is something that falls in the ignorance category, you can really shine by engaging with others that are better at it than you are. Not only will you learn from them, as a team you will be more effective. For example, a technology consultant recently told me that he hated calling clients to collect money because it always feels like an awkward conversation. Yet, as a project executive, he needed to be sure calls were completed on a monthly basis. One day he asked his office manager to make phone calls with him. The office manager handled the calls with the professional assertiveness he had been lacking. They began a routine of splitting the call list and making monthly calls together. The outstanding business debt decreased dramatically, and the project executive became more comfortable being assertive.

Be open to challenges.

Being challenged by others is a difficult thing for many professionals to manage. Unfortunately, it seems the longer you are in your career, the more difficult it becomes. You are more likely to be successful in your career if you make an agreement with yourself that you will be open to challenges from others. Often, a new idea or new way of doing something is born out of someone challenging the current situation- this is what innovation is all about. If you are not receptive to a colleague’s challenges, you may miss these innovations. Worse, your colleague may stop providing challenges and take them to a competitor.

Suppose your team is tasked with creating high quality best spaghetti & meatball dinners for a large banquet. All of your training and experience makes you one of the fastest noodle-cookers in the world. However, one of your colleagues challenges you to cook the pasta in the sauce to save time. While it can be difficult at times to work with people who challenge your work, actions, and/or opinions, your openness to these challenges will pay off in the long term. In the case of the banquet, your team will be able to produce delicious dinners faster if you accept the challenge and learn from it. While it is easy to keep working with people who love your noodles as they are, when you work with people who challenge you, progress is made. Make the conscious decision to be open to these challenges and try different ways to complete your work.

Be gracious and pay it forward.

Just as it can be difficult to have someone challenge you, it can be equally as difficult for the other person to bring up an issue. Presenting ideas that a co-worker may, or may not want to hear can be stressful. Yet, a good leader does it anyway. Picture yourself as an entry-level quality control technician. You are out on a job site and an engineer in the office challenges you on the speed at which data is relayed from your field site to his office at corporate for review. You accept the challenge and develop a new internet-based application to send data in virtual real-time. Impressed with your innovation and initiative, your boss promotes you and you are now several steps higher on the ladder of success – all because of the challenge put forth by the office engineer. You then respond by thanking the office engineer for the feedback and paying it forward by challenging other team members to learn the new application.

Offering your gratitude to the person who laid out the initial challenge and forced you to become a better technician is the right thing to do. Additionally, you will likely find that they are more willing to provide you with additional career-enhancing challenges because they feel appreciated.

While your career will grow when you surround yourself with people who challenge you, you should also think of others. Just as you appreciate the discussions and help that led you to be a better employee, others will as well. The ultimate compliment that you can pay to a co-worker is to help them move their craft forward. If you see a way to do something differently, perhaps better or faster, don’t be afraid to bring it up to them. By questioning the activity in a constructive manner, you challenge others be better.

Buzz Aldrin found success by surrounding himself with people who challenged him. You can too. The benefits to being challenged are numerous. To grow your career: engage people that compliment your weaknesses, be open to challenges, be gracious when someone challenges you, and pay it forward by challenging others.


How do you surround yourself with people who challenge you?

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