The Problem of Potential Problems

Warning switch

Alarmists are irritating. They push the panic button at the first hint of smoke. They see what might go wrong and yell fire. While you’re dealing with “real” issues, they’re dealing with things that might happen.

Reject the temptation to ignore “alarmists.” All problems were potential once. The land of leadership is the land of not yet and could be. That includes potential problems. Leaders consumed with current issues aren’t leading.

Four inadequate responses to “alarmists:”

  1. Agree. Issues are often over or misstated.
  2. Answer. Don’t give answers. Your answer suggests more potential problems to an alarmist.
  3. Minimize. Alarmists become more alarmed if you don’t make them feel heard.
  4. Ignore. Bury your head in the sand and you’ll get kicked in the butt.

One crucial concern:

Consider the source. Don’t waste your time with disengaged spectators. Ignore them politely. The future is never built by fixing issues from complainers on the sidelines.

Seven questions that expose potential problems:

When engaged participants bring up potential problems, explore don’t ignore.

  1. What danger do you see?
  2. How critical, on a scale of 1 to 5, is it?
  3. What is the issue behind the issue? Determine if potential problems are mis or overstated. Is the danger people or processes?
  4. What does a win look like? Look for alignment with values and vision.
  5. What action steps do you suggest?
  6. How much time, energy, and resources should we expend?
  7. How will we measure success?

Special warning regarding step five:

When you ask an “alarmist” for action steps they give assignments. They want you to do something. Sometimes you should. But, the problem they see is often the problem they should address.

Spend more time building the future
than fixing potential problems.

Final word:

Leaders who are consumed with advancement and growth, often neglect the importance of preserving gains. Listen to engaged “alarmists.” They’re protecting progress.

How do determine which potential problems deserve attention?