When the Problem Isn’t the Problem
Big problems are the result of neglecting small ones.
“How often have we learned the harsh lesson that, like unharvested fruit, untended problems turn rotten?” Jim Moorhead, The Instant Survivor.
Delay, not problems, destroys us. A crisis was a small problem, once.
General Douglas Macarthur said, “The history of the failure of war can almost be summed up in two words: too late.
- Too late in comprehending the deadly purpose of a potential enemy.
- Too late in realizing the mortal danger.
- Too late in preparedness.
- Too late in uniting all possible forces for resistance.
- Too late in standing with one’s friends.” (From: The Instant Survivor, recommended read)
I ask, crisis management expert, Jim Moorhead, to explain why leaders let small problems grow. He replied, “The first reason is denial.”
Denial is pretending it will go away if we ignore it. Jim explained that we are surrounded by crisis every day, financial crisis, climate crisis, energy crisis, banking crisis. The fact that life goes on, gives us the wrong impression.
Life may go on when crisis is “out there.” But, personal and organizational problems sleep too close to magically vanish in the morning. Health, financial, and persistent management issues never solve themselves.
Reoccurring issues suggest you should have dealt with them already. Successful leaders take positive action toward negative situations, quickly.
Ask yourself and others, “If things continue as they are, where do we end up?” Moorhead called this, “Illuminating trajectory.” Take action by shining the light on direction. If nothing changes where will you be next month?
Jim suggests that positive trajectory begins when leaders:
- Move beyond denial.
- Stop substituting worry for action.
- Stop telling lies about their situation.
- Accept help from others to tackle problems.
What small problems simply go away?
What tips can you offer that help prevent small problems from becoming big?
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Came across a quote the other day while reading “The Leadership Triangle” by Kevin Ford and Ken Tucker:
“When the rate of external change exceeds the rate of internal change, disaster is imminent.” (Bill FIelds, former Wal-Mart president)
Therefore, the longer we remain in denial, the more we contribute to our own disaster.
Great seeing you again.
This post is becoming more of a kick in the pants for me than I expected. Your comment only adds to my discomfort. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your insights.
How timely this post and your quote Scott…Wal-Mart, who slashed prices against other big box stores or mom/pop operations in a ‘traditional’ storefront frame of reference, is now getting nailed by Amazon, who has transitioned into a virtual storefront, cutting several costly supply steps.
But we have reached the bottom of the barrel insofar as the people involved in the business of business. The Amazon model takes a TREMENDOUS toll on the people who are fulfilling the orders. The working conditions are inhumane.
Reading things like this:
will remind you of the basic situation in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. That book started the government on doing the FDA — it was much needed. Now, we see the government making unions so difficult that the employers can take great advantage of the workers.
Soon, we will see these distribution warehouses run with prison labor, where they can pay them $.10 an hour and we taxpayers support the industry. It would not surprise me if this is happening now.
What ever happened to the issue of value? Are we becoming so poor as a middle class that price is the ONLY thing that we can do? Will this recession ever end? Will the politicians who have jobs do something for the people that don’t?
Great thoughts may this become part of my DNA!
@Scott love that quote from Bill Fields.
Your comment made me think that running toward rather than away from “problems” takes us further.
very true, delay is dangerous. It leads to Anger, again ” D” is the only missing between Anger and Danger.
No delay – solves many problems
I hadn’t thought about the anger component but I can see that delay can result in anger directed toward something “out there.” When in reality, as Scott pointed out, the issue is most likely “in here.”
Thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts with us.
I agree that delay and denial are the deadly inside demons that roadblock our path to success. I also agree that we pretend to un-see or overlook problems anticipating that it will vanish. Our internal inertia is the root cause of denial and delay. So, we need to win over insider demons (inertia) first and then external demons. There are small problems that you do not need to address, and they will simply go away. I think these are distractions and situations. They can delay your plan and firm determination and persistence can overcome them. So, when decision is taken, one should chase it. When our will power surrenders before situation, we deviate from the path. I think time is critical parameter to let small problem grow big. Stitch in time saves nine. It means we should act before time. We should avoid being complacent and believe in making decision and taking actions thereafter. Action is the key to stop problem. All these actions depend on our belief and values. Stronger values lead to stronger actions and vice versa.
I’m always thankful you stop in to share your insights.
The nugget I’m taking with me today is. “win over your inside demons first…” Pure gold.
Thanks for being a consistent contributor to the conversation.
I sometimes think I sound like a broken record (there’s an image that’ll date me) on the subject of leaders’ ability to be self-reflective and self-aware. People will engage in regular, authentic, and honest self-reflection tend to notice things that are out of kilter, not working, unresponsive. A regular practice of detaching from work and allowing oneself to hang out in being instead of doingdoingdoing for some time in each day is very likely to build/find/discover a core or authenticity and truth that will enable him or her to get a more accurate meta-view of the situation and, perhaps, change problems into successes.
Some call it prayer, some meditation, some a walk in the woods or on the beach, still others just call it slowing down and breathing. Whatever you call it, it’s vital for leaders to disengage so they can re-engage more fully.
Good practices around self-reflection involve having someone else – a group of trusted colleagues who meet expressly for this purpose, a coach, a mentor, or someone like that who will intentionally help the leader to reflect, even/especially on the more uncomfortable things.
Jeanny (hoping this is coherent since posting from my phoine won’t let me scroll back and re-read)
Great ideas bear repeating. Thanks for sharing a rich reminder plus the addition of involving others in our self-reflective practice takes self-reflection to new places.
Thanks for taking time to share your insights from your phone!
The question “If things continue as they are, where do we end up?” is very powerful.
It’s pretty hard to ignore!
Love it Dan. Can’t improve on it. Off to do something about it.
The great leadership question… what’s next? cheers!
We should always learn to address/solve the current’s page issues before moving/turning to the next chapter.
Delay + Denial = Reoccurring Destruction.
Any comment that looks like a mathematical formula impresses the heck out of me! 🙂
At some point we could certainly insert Einstein’s definition of insanity… ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. In this case, it might be ‘not doing’ the same thing over and over…
You’ve added to Einstein! I knew you were a genius!
Procrastination is very, very comfortable.
That’s why I waited to reply! 🙂
I’ll wait until I think of something genius, charming and witty to get back to you 😉
Such a great post!
Nancy Ortberg says leaders must have “the willingness to intercept entropy at its earliest signs, the courage to have difficult conversations, and the ability to set deadlines for resolution.”
Henry Cloud’s “Necessary Endings” is also a great resource.
I know about these because I have had to grow so much in this area!
I find alot of companies tend to ‘treat the symptoms not the cause of problems’ as part of the denial stage you mentioned then wonder why these problems keep re – occurring.
Lean Sigma’s 5 Why’s can be a quick and effective exercise for diagnosis
Kotter suggested creating or letting a crisis happen in order to get people to take notice and start getting ready for change, I prefer what Moorhead called this, “Illuminating trajectory.” as its a call to action that empowers people totake ownership and has a lower risk, however, some people are so in denial it takes a crisis to remove this delusion
My favourite for stopping small problems is to ‘eat the frog’ (any hassle or problem that you would like to pospone) at the start of everyday. A frog a day keeps the problems away 🙂
That “illuminating trajectory” piece has been big for me lately.
We should never be too late.
A decision to solve a problem, and its following implementation can be corrected and (in many times) even changed when we understand its eventual failure (thet’s why we follow with proper supervision). Not deciding, procrastinating and letting the problems grow may have deadly concequences as, in the end, the problem gets too big for any solution.
I have seen horrible leadership that failed just because the leader let the problems grow.
Very insightful post. Most companies have a policy of ‘status quo’ on problems that they do not want to face or attend to. However these days there is no status quo – it gets better or worse. And with status quo its only getting worse.
Yes. Once we have defined the problem we need to stop talking about it and instead define what we want to have happen. We can’t build solutions on lengthy and carefully crafted problem discussions – all we get are status-quo solutions in which little changes.
Also, change plans without visible evidence of small immediate change action means we will further the status quo. When we know what we want to happen we need to see ourselves taking action in order that the learning required to get to the goals becomes real.
Great post thank you for the your insight and thoughts
My tips for to prevent small problems from becoming big ones are to develop and maintain one’s of vision and judgement. Vision is to both see the problem realistically in the present (no denial) and see it’s potential impact in the future (illuminate). The judgement is the ability to compare the cost of solving the problem now and the cost of solving the problem later. If you see a potential problem others are overlooking, and explain to them the benefit of dealing with it now compared with not (the delay), you’ll be a servant leader indeed.