The Leadership Shift toward Exponential Success
The fringes of leadership are populated with problem-centric leaders.
Leaders are born when they shift from self to others. Leaders begin leading when they shift toward solutions. The first is a beginning – the second represents success.
The problem with problems:
Seeing problems places you on the fringes of leadership. Somehow it feels important to point out deficiencies; in one sense it is.
The problem with problems is seeing them is an easy beginning to an arduous journey.
The second shift:
Courageous leaders shift from problem-centric to solution-centric leadership. It’s the difference between floundering and success. Seeing problems is like falling off logs – Crafting solutions is climbing mountains.
Shifting toward solutions:
- Courageously identify challenges, problems, and failures. “If there is an elephant in the room, introduce him.” Anonymous. If you can’t admit where you are, you’ll never get where you want to be.
- Name problems without distracting, self-affirming condemnations; it’s not who’s right but what’s right.
- Reject leader as savior models. Never take responsibility to fix someone else’s problem. You degrade them and inflate yourself when you become a fixer.
- Affirm the vision of others while protecting your own. Jim Collins suggests, “Embrace the genius of ‘and’.” Everyone has a vision for you and your organization. At best, you’ll get lost following someone else’s plan. At worst, you’ll feel pushed around.
- Help others own their own solutions. If others aren’t willing to get skin in the game, don’t waste your time. Be polite but let it go.
Bonus: Develop small steps not perfect solutions. Perfect solutions are myths, progress is real. Solution-centric leaders move forward while problem-centric leaders hide behind perfection.
How can leaders become solution-centric in a problem filled world?
How can leaders be realistic about problems and hopeful about solutions?
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You know by now that I am an evangelist in this area. For me, the shift is largely one of choice. We can CHOOSE a solution-based, even an asset-based, mindset.
In any moment, there is one choice that feels more appropriate than another. In any moment, there is one choice that feels more POWERFUL than another. If we can’t tell the difference in this way, we are not paying attention.
So, let me put it this way: once someone starts paying attention to their self-talk, their habitual language, and their emotional approach (let’s call that attitude) towards “problems” they can then ask themselves:
“Which feels better and more empowering, when I say that I am seeking improvement, or when I say that things need to change around here?”
“Which feels better and ,more empowering, when I see obstacles as failures, or when I choose to view them as a chance to hone preferences and approaches, and move toward that improvement I’m looking for?”
“Which feels better and more powerful, building up what my team is doing right, while coaching them towards recognizing where we might find improvement, or chiding them for everything that’s short of excellent, and asking them when I can expect them to make the necessary corrections so ‘this never happens again’?”
Once we begin this kind of check in, and inner dialog, and build awareness of both the downside of problem-based approaches, and the upside of a solution-based mindset, all that is required is the presence of mind to practice, practice, practice until the approach is part of WHO we are (my hunch it that it is more a part of who we are than the problem-based approach, and that is why it feels better).
Wow… already wrote more than I planned…
Thanks for being first in and sharing this post with your followers on twitter.
I love it when you “get going” and respect your insights.
Practice practice practice …
The first thing I’m practicing is realistically accepting problem statements which frequently are negative … “I don’t like” or “This isn’t working.
The second and more important is shifting negative problem statements into positive “I want statements” … Then and only then can we develop next steps.
It’s impossible to do a negative… It can only be not done.
Haha… thanks, Dan.
Yes… the problem statement bit… some consider them a place to hang out instead of a waypoint where we can choose a new direction. 😉 I like your idea of stopping, taking stock and MOVING ON TO WHAT WE WANT.
Excellent post, Dan. There is something quotable in almost every paragraph.
The hardest, I think is #5. If people won’t put skin in the game, they can’t help you or the organization, and will be a distraction and best, a critic and saboteur at worst.
Great seeing you again.
I’ve started making the “skin in the game” more public. In other words everyone needs to know thats our operating principle.
Taking pot shots from the sidelines isn’t acceptable and we won’t empower or honor it by giving it credence.
Thats not to say that we can’t learn from critics. We can. But I’m not impressed with arm chair quarter backs.
I agree with you Dan. Perhaps its my state of continuing to age gracefully, or not so much, but I find that I am becoming less tolerant of people who have a great deal to say about what is wrong, but offer no concrete suggestions that involve them actually doing anything or making a measurable contribution.
I hear you Martina. The world is full of people who want to fill our lives with things they want us to do. It’s great to finally get to a place where I can see it coming… embrace the good and reject the ridiculous and expect others to grab an oar.
All 5 shifts are terrific. The challenge is becoming aware enough of one’s own thinking to shift it and then see opportunities as they arise. I suggest a leader start with one of them to try out for a week or two or three.
I often coach leaders/influencers to first start finding and introducing neutral labels for issues. Then they try having their team members do the labeling (“what would you guys call this?”); this gives the leader a feeling of what it’s like to ‘let go’.
Focused self-observation, preferably with feedback from other(s), I believe is required for these kinds of shifts. I might add a third shift to your list = pulling back enough to enable others to develop into leaders?
thanks for your comment.
Love the search for neutral labels. Just the other day I kept hearing negative labels coming out of my mouth, and from others too…
If we just ask… how do I solve this negative we start realizing how futile the whole process is…
Thanks also for bringing the idea of feedback from others into the mix. We seldom have the ability to see ourselves on our own.
Finally, getting out of the way = exactly!
Once again, just what I needed to read/hear today. Thank you. As Martina said, there’s something quotable in almost every paragraph. What’s more, there’s something actionable. For me at least
You have my best wishes for your success as you take a step.
It so sweet to let go of “arrival thinking” and just take a step toward better.
I think leaders can become solution centric in a problem filled world by boosting the morale of its team. It is crucial parameters. It increases confidence and a sense of solidarity among members. United effort can assure exponential success. Self centric attitude and self benefited approach often shift focus and derail collective efforts. I think to become realistic is simple one. Be honest, transparent and inculcate empathy and humility. Others are more important than self in leadership journey. True leaders always create hopes and optimism that bind and encourage people towards its goal. Leaders should develop steps that foster trust, integrity and direction in the system. This can bring exponential outcomes.
Great that you bring morale to the mix. High morale is a high performance environment.
Maxwell says something like… your problems look smaller and your successes look bigger when you have momentum… a component of high morale.
Thanks for your insights on morale..very practical and useful.
What fantastic advice!
I thought this one is going to another one of those go-soft, become a teddy bear style of leadership sermon on World Hug Day, but the undercurrent of strength and developing people is so evident in all 5 points.
Particularly, helping people own their “own” solutions AND not be a fixer is great. I have a word for it now. I call it “Pull based” leadership at Online courses on WizIQhelp be sought rather than given. Stay away, don’t talk, raise issues without offering solutions, ask open ended questions.
If your team needs you all the time, there is a huge problem. “Pulling” indicates a problem. If you notice a pattern in the help being pulled, work on training, coaching, mentoring. You’ll have your solutions in place 🙂
You’ll also have more time to focus on “Important but not urgent” items.
I can tip toe through the tulips with the best of them. 🙂
I hadn’t thought of this as a tough post but I think you are right. One reason it’s tough is we have to pry ourselves out of the center of the mix.
Leaders who are always being asked questions are either needy or inept at enabling and delegating… dang that sound tough.
Thanks for your comment,
Problem focused leaders are not actually leaders. Usually, pretty much everyone knows what the problem is, but has a different take on it. Leave the problem analysis to the engineers who are trained to unpack problems and create mechanistic solutions. Problem solving by non-engineers in organizations simply slows things down and leads down the rat-hole of helplessness.
Humans create solutions when the leader defines the problem and what’s needed to make it go away. So, figure out what’s wanted instead of the problem and lead the organization there. It’s much more rewarding than problem solving.
Incidentally, there’s process for making what’s wanted, i.e., solutions, happen much faster. http://tiny.cc/5zikh
Great post. It all boils down to one’s level of passion and ownership attitude. I guess the second quality is derived from the first. When we are passionate, we get aligned to our inner creative and perseverence sinews. And this leads us to become solution -centric and augments our ability to choose our response.
The question remains, how do we remain passionate about a host of issues being thrown at us from the environment. The trick is to focus on the core outcome (s) we desire and then link the disparate issues to this.
We can best focus on solutions by waking up and making that our choice! Then seek to repeat one breath at a time…