Leadership’s Greatest Value
Problems are giant black holes that capture focus, drain vitality, and divert resources. Solving problems seduces leaders away from future opportunities causing them to focus on past inadequacies.
Problems that threaten organizations must be addressed, admittedly. Sadly, many leaders are simply problem solving machines; they jump from one fire to the next.
You never build the future by solving the past. The problem with solving problems is we think we’ve created results when we haven’t. Solving problems doesn’t create value.
“Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.” Peter Drucker
Most calls I receive are problem centered calls. The pain of past deficiencies or failures drives us to seek solutions. We’re looking for an “ahhh” moment to make the pain go away. We falsely believe if the pain goes away we’re heading in the right direction.
Leadership’s greatest value is helping people shift from the past to the future.
- Who do you want to become?
- How do you want to be?
- Where are the greatest opportunities?
- What talent and resources are currently in place?
- What matters most?
- How can you achieve the best results?
- What should be jettisoned?
- How can you create quick wins?
- How can you fuel momentum and create urgency?
- What training leverages opportunities?
Assessing current pain points – past failures – is essential but never the end. Wandering around in the past, if that’s all you do, is a colossal waste of time. Backward-facing assessments take organizations in the entirely wrong direction.
Success is where you aren’t – the future – not where you were – the past.
How do you overcome the temptation to be a problem-solver rather than a leader?
Whenever the problem solving gremlin hops on my shoulder I say the acronym WAIT – Why Am I Talking
This quick exercise puts me in the proper mindset to empower vs. solve.
mmmmm love it Steve. Thanks
true. What problem to solve and who can solve it is better time spent by a leader than how to solve a problem
I’m going a step farther…I think most problems from the past are solved by creating the future.
Dan, great post. The word itself – leadership – suggests movement. Leaders lead their followers to a different place. To stay in the same place you don’t need a leader, you need an administrator.
The hard part is fighting your way free of the daily incoming. As the saying goes, “When you’re up to your armpits in alligators, its hard to remember that you’re here to drain the swamp.”
Leaders need to choose sometimes to let others solve the problems. That shows trust, and its not much of a risk because usually there are multiple good answers. The more we do this, the more confidence our people gain and the less they need us to club their alligators.
I love your analogy of alligators and swamps” I hadn’t heard that one.
I’ll go one step further. Dedicate your best resources and people for your best opportunities and allow others to focus on problems.
Best to you,
And remember, as you drain the swamp, the stumps start to appear and they can snag your momentum in yet another way than the gators, with the same effect, waste of resources, loss of vision. The stumps may be those things that you thought could always remain under the surface unseen, but not so fast Mr. Leader, they are still there, you just chose to ignore them.
I absolutely agree that we think that we have created result but this is not true. We try to justify outcomes through our actions. This is a great fallacy we think. I believe that leaders greatest values lies in their belief. Leaders do not have boundary. And even if they have, they try to expand it outwards. Problem solvers leaders have backward thinking so, focus is to spot problem and solve it, Whereas where we look for opportunities we belief in effort to minimize problems and maximize values.
Leaders integrate past experience with opportunity available in future. They are good at scenario analysis. So, good leaders predict the future and align their activities to grab opportunities.
I appreciate the point no 7: leaders know what to jettison. They do not emotionally attach with the things that stops them to succeed. They also unlearn many habits and behaviors that need modification to achieve their goals.
Thank you for your comment.
Love the phrase … minimize problems and maximize values. I take values to be positive results in this conversation. Sadly, many leaders escalate problem solving to a top priority. That is seldom wise or necessary.
Perhaps the seduction of checking something off the list makes problem solving so appealing.
YOu have my best,
Hey Dan, nice work. my reflection: what can you do now that moves you towards a way of living that means your future will not resemble your past? If today is not the best day in your life what are you going to do about it?
The answer often hurst but the outcomes are ‘everything’
Great seeing you… I absolutely love your question… how will the future be different from the past… if that doesn’t ramp up our thinking, nothing will.
As always you have my best,
Mmm…hurst, maybe I meant hurts!
Your typos bring comfort toe me… 🙂
For those of us in problem solving industries, I’m a CPA by trainning, the need to solve to the problem can be so great that often the question of how are we moving forward from this doesn’t even come up. Problem solving does give the appearance of movement when it actually just keeps you in the same place. Looking beyond the problem and connecting the next steps back to the company’s vision is necessary to move forward.
My wife is a CPA 🙂
I wonder if finding the opportunity in a problem creates forward movement? I hope that’s not just semantics.
Thanks for joining the conversation again today.
Best to you,
If one sees the patterns in a problem they can be opportunities to not repeat the problem yet again at another future date. It may be (superficial?) job security to keep fixing those problems, however, job satisfaction may be lacking.
Probably one of the larger distinctions needing to be made to be a leader rather than a manager. Often managers become leaders and their managerial frame of reference was properly ‘what problems do I need to solve today?’ It is both natural, seductive, and short-term very fulfuilling to gravitate to what we know, even though though the leader role is not to solve problems, not to do for others, but to help others DIY, to observe, then coach or mentor dependent on the situation. It may be the leader role to point out past parallels, but only briefly to learn, not to repeat all of the corrective steps yet again…even if it feels so productive.
It’s great seeing you again! I’m always thankful when you share you insights.
When ever I post on this topic it feels awkward to me. It just feels like we should be solving problems…and of course some need solving…
I continue to see the value and power of starting with the present…whatever it is… and moving into the future.
Have a great day,
I usually find your posts to be insightful and inspiring. This one doesn’t make the grade for me.
It’s true that many managers spend too much time tilting at windmills – working on problems they’re never going to solve because they haven’t defined them properly and they’re not solving them within the proper context. But think about what happens when an organization ventures into the unknown. Where is the unknown? It is anywhere past the status quo. Making a major positive change is the “unknown” – we have an idea of what we will encounter, but we are certain to encounter “problems” – obstacles previously unknown and unimagined that block the path to improvement. The same is true in spades with creating new products and services, opening a new market, acquiring a company, consummating a merger, or implementing a new strategic plan. These are all ventures into unfamiliar territory. And what is the most important skill for these ventures? Resourcefulness! Oops, that’s about problem solving!
Let’s differentiate between solving the wrong problems the wrong ways and solving the right problems the right ways. Saying problem solving is “bad” is like saying marriage is “bad” because so many people experience bad times in marriage. Personally, I think marriage is great – only bad marriages are bad. The same is true with problem solving.
I always look for the best problem solvers on the team – when they also help others to solve problems, we’ve got future leadership material right in front of us.
Thanks for adding value and dimension to the conversation…
I’ll make one small observation… solving problems that are the result of forward movement is different from picking the scab off something that didn’t work in the past. (I acknowledge that sometimes we must pick scabs but believe we do it far to frequently)
Some problems created by forward movement should be accepted. The ones that slow progress should be solved when the benefit outweighs the cost.
You have my best,
Sometimes even “picking scabs” off old unsolved problems can be very helpful. Early in my managerial career I had a few a “problem” employees who long disrupted the efforts of the team, some by simply under performing, others by passive or even active sabotage. I considered this a “problem”, and I fixed it. I was expecting the team to close ranks around the offender, but to my surprise and delight, team members told me how much they appreciated my solving this problem for them.
To me, a manager’s job is to help all his or her employees to be their best – to build a team of people who feel they are winners, and that together, they are better than any of them are individually. Part of that job is removing obstacles that stand between them and their best performance. Often, those obstacles are long-standing “problems” that no one has managed to resolve. I think employees feel greatly appreciated when their boss helps to remove these obstacles to success.
Good problem solvers find ways to steamroll speed bumps, straighten our curves, and increase individual horsepower. I think problem solving is getting a bad rap because incompetents have given it a bad name. I’ll bet if you did a survey asking people to give examples of how problem solving helped to make the workplace better, you’d find plenty of examples. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Once again you have forward facing objective … for example: help all his or her employees to be their best – to build a team of people who feel they are winners…”
Problems are understood and interpreted with the preferred future in mind.
Is it just a play on words to say problem solving from a leader’s point of view is always about leveraging opportunities?
You sound like an awesome manager.
Great thread Rick and Dan…maybe the measure is how much time is spent solving existing problems that were not addressed. If you come in new to an organization as a leader, you may have to do that initially to deal with the issues Rick identified. If you are still doing it 3+ years later, then there may be a problem with your leadership focus or you have had a really stuck culture.
Good interesting post with an important lesson that results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems. I recollect having read a very useful article on Leaders Vs. Managers in HBR about 20 years before. The article again talked on the similar lines.
True leaders primarily have a strategic role and look beyond by visualizing the future. The operational part is usually the responsibility of managers who will ensure effective execution of plans by people management skills and problem solving skills. I did see a CMD of the fastest growing Indian Pharma MNC working in this fashion and today that company is amongst the front-runners with huge success to its credit.
It is said, “All managers can become good leaders but all leaders cannot become good managers”. Good leaders will not prefer to waste their time in working on operational part which would mean more of solving problems to achieve the planned targets. Their primary role is to look for new opportunities and work on strategic decisions which can benefit the organization in the long-term future.
“You never build the future by solving the past. The problem with solving problems is we think we’ve created results when we haven’t. Solving problems doesn’t create value.” Yes! Have you been spying on my workplace? We are in the midst of transitioning from an operations/firefighting mode to a more strategic mode and getting people to step away from firefighting is incredibly difficult. I think because it is so rewarding in the short term (I did something to help someone today). Looking to the past and trying to solve old problems is a chronic government condition in many cases.
Reblogged this on willowcreeksa.
I am curious, if we respond to problems by focusing creating the future as you stated, that is in effect “problem solving”, right?
I suppose I had in mind that a true leader has a broader range of vision than the average person, so chasing fires isn’t really a characteristic of leaders, is it? The average person doesn’t seek underlying causes, they just focus on the effect.
I have always considered myself a problem solver, not one case at a time, but recognizing patterns and acting to change them. I enjoy the reading here.