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10 Ways to Successfully Lead Through Problems

The difference between a whiner and a leader is the courage to step into the gap and seek solutions.

Average leaders solve problems.

Successful leaders find problems.

Skillful leaders create problems.

Leaders shine lights on painful gaps.

Problems are gaps between what is and what should be. The bigger the gap the bigger the problem.

 All great leaders solve great problems.

Short-sighted leaders sweep problems under the carpet. Successful leaders confront the inclination to ignore uncomfortable topics, situations, and circumstances.

Positive power of problems:

  1. Problems give meaning to actions.
  2. Problems explain your value. The bigger the problem you solve the more value you offer.
  3. More problems mean more solutions.

Organizational mission is explained by the big problem you are solving. An organization that isn’t solving a problem has a problem.

10 ways to approach solution-making:

  1. Maximize. Don’t say, “It’s not that bad.” Make problems worthy of solutions.
  2. Listen. Pay attention to frustrations. Don’t appease frustrations; explore them.
  3. Urgency. Define reality by explaining the negative impact of urgent problems.
  4. Acceptance. Accept that current programs, systems, or processes aren’t working as well as intended. Don’t point fingers.
  5. Use we. “We have a problem.” “I” doesn’t invite participation. “You” makes leadership irrelevant.
  6. Ownership. Take problems personally.
  7. Fast. Quick solutions create momentum. Solve a few easy problems, quickly. Don’t make it hard if it isn’t.
  8. Postpone. We can’t solve this right now. Throw it in the problem bucket.
  9. Difficulty and optimism. It may require hard work, adaptation, and experimentation, but we’ll find a way. Confronting problems without optimism is a death sentence.
  10. Test as you go.

Bonus: Average leaders offer their solutions. Successful leaders develop solutions with others.

Dean Schroeder on creating problems (0:52):

*This post is inspired by my conversations with Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder, authors of, “The Idea-Driven Organization.”

What are the components of great problems? 

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