I was 15 and ready to quit the National Honor Society of the Boy Scouts, Order of the Arrow, before I even joined.
Our first trial was to spend a weekend setting up a large summer camp. We slept outdoors in the rain with only our sleeping bags, fasted, and remained in complete silence. The last straw was when we were told to do all this "cheerfully."
You might have felt like you wanted to quit, too. However, as this ordeal continued I discovered greater inner resilience and deepened personal leadership capacity. And eventually I did it a bit... cheerfully.
Reflecting on this experience paid off later when I was grinding out long hours in a rapidly changing organization and also when I began leading my first team.
If you're not pushing your team, you are leaving productivity on the table.
The trick is to learn to push them to stretch their capacity without shutting them down. Months later you'll all look back in amazement in terms of how far you've come.
Practice pushing your team without breaking them like this:
1. Share 'why'
The power of 'why' taps into their inner source of motivation and will help them go further than they would be willing to otherwise. Your explanation of 'why' can address how digging a little deeper expands their personal capacity as well as addresses a specific need of the organization.
As Simon Sinek shares in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action: "There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it."
Sharing why you are pushing them is important to your team, you, and the organization. Start by asking yourself this question first so you have a clear explanation for your team.
2. Clearly communicate what you want
No one likes working for work's sake. Share the specific activities and/or expectation of time-frame so it's completely clear. Otherwise, you may end up demoralizing your team if they don't see the positive end result of their efforts.
3. Lead from the front lines
Demonstrate the behavior you would like to see. Show the team how you are pushing yourself as a leader. Employees will often push themselves if they see you leading from the front lines.
The military has effectively used this strategy for years. It is powerfully depicted in this 60 Minutes episode as a commander from the Iraqi army leads his troops deep into ISIS territory. The bullets and bombs are flying but Major Salam Hussein (no, not Saddam Hussein) is the first to charge.
4. Set, achieve, celebrate
Non-stop pushing eventually leads to burnout. Instead, establish a cadence of setting aggressive stretch targets, pushing to achieve them, and then celebrating.
Avoid putting off the celebration too long by falling into the "it's too early to celebrate" trap. Celebrate completion of a major push, and watch how far they'll go with you next time.
5. Ask them to reflect
Ask your team to reflect on what they've learned and how they've developed from the experience. This helps them identify the personal benefit and increases the likelihood of them going with you in the future.
6. Set goals on future productive capacity
Beware of setting team goals based on your team's capacity today. Instead, consider and communicate where you think they will be a few months in the future.
7. Enact the rule of reciprocity
As Robert Cialdini points out in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, we are naturally geared to reciprocate when given a gift.
"The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us," Cialdini writes.
Ask your employees what they want, and give it to them first. Over deliver to them, and they will over deliver for you.