The Greater Challenge
Problems are roadblocks to results.
Exceptional leaders lean into problems; mediocre turn away. If you want to lead, solve a problem, the bigger the better.
But, solving problems doesn’t produce results.
5 un-leaderly responses to problems:
- Hand-wringing: Worry coupled with lack of confidence in teams and colleagues.
- Whining: Discussing difficulties, without exploring solutions.
- Fault-finding: Looking for mistakes, while neglecting progress.
- Drama-making: The world’s coming to an end. What are we going to do?
- Accusing: You screwed up. It’s not my fault.
Define problems in behavioral terms.
The first step in solving a problem is talking about it in ways that ignite energy.
“Just tell me what people are doing, or not doing, that’s causing the problem.” The New One Minute Manager, Blanchard and Spencer.
Describe observable behaviors that cause problems, don’t explain. Sentences that begin with “That’s because,” are self-justifying speculation.
Focus on things within your control. Things you can observe. Things out of your control drain, defeat, and discourage.
The greater challenge:
The greater challenge of leadership is determining behaviors that produce results, not solving problems. Solving problems is the easy part.
Identify results and set goals, but focus on day-to-day behaviors.
“Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.” Drucker
Solving problems is taking away negatives. Producing results is adding positives. Leaders do both. But, here’s the rub, a problem solved doesn’t produce results.
Success begins when you engage in behaviors that produces results.
Negative leaders focus on stopping. Positive leaders identify actionable behaviors that deliver results.
Experience shows that leaders spend too much time solving problems and not enough exploiting opportunities.
What problem-solving strategies work for you?
How might leaders exploit opportunities?
This is a timely one, Dan. When I presented the annual update to our Board on the safety and security situation in 2014 it was all about our evacuating Libya, continuing operations in Sierra Leone and Eastern Ukraine that we had focussed so much on in 2014. My 2015 slide said everything from 2014 was still unresolved and additionally we had seen terrorist attacks in Copenhagen and Paris as well as other issues. Rather than let them get depressed and think oh no even more problems for us to face, my next slide showed the two Chinese characters that are often said to be synonymous with “crisis” – risk and opportunity.
That’s my way of “leaning in” to a problem. Yes they can be frustrating, energy-sapping and downright depressing, but if you step back and look for the opportunity a solution might provide and then shine some light on it together with those that might help contribute to the solution, it is amazing how optimism can suddenly appear and you become re-energised, determined and more often than not able not only to face the problem but to work through it successfully.
Thanks Paul. I’m so glad you joined in. It’s important to appreciate that in some settings, success is preventing and protecting.
I admire your commitment to face challenges with optimism.
Wow Dan, great post and perspective. Your input that: “The greater challenge of leadership is determining behaviors that produce results, not solving problems” and showing how this focuses on the positive not the negative is hugely insightful and helpful for me. Hope I can leverage this today and in the future. Thanks so much!
Thanks Pat. Problems can be magnetic. When we get sucked in, it’s easy to forget about the mission in positive terms. Best for the future.
there is a very subtle line in here which I think often gets confused – that better than solve the problem is the focus on process and behaviors that produce results and diminish the impact of ‘problems’ (though not necessarily their frequency). In this way also you overcome the insidious problem of complacency – where nothing is improving and everyone fools themselves life is good. As a leader we must always stretch for better outcomes and inspire our team to do the same, the process is both additive and positive when well executed.
Thanks Richard. There are several words in your comment that stimulate my thinking.
Processes as they relate to solving problems and enhancing productivity.
Not necessarily diminishing the frequency of problems. Trying to prevent problems from happening often turns into a distraction.
The term “additive” really speaks to me.
Good morning Dan;
Today’s blog ‘piggy-backs’ well with last weeks blog rergarding Opportunity. There will always be plenty of both which require our attention. “WARNING”, all though problems that are ignored are problems that grow, we can not spend all our time and effort addressing problems while Great Opportunities slip through our fingers. The biggest problem I see when dealing with problems is people love to complain about them, but rareley have a solutuon. When I am spearheading an attempt to resolve a problem, during the brainstorming phase I ‘do not allow’ conversation that does not address, or, solve the problem to rob us of precious time, effort, and resources. “Bottom line, if your comments, or input, aren’t solving the problem, keep your comments to yourself!”
There will always be problems for todays Leaders to address. Face them, address them, and move on. ‘BUT’, at the same time be ever attentive to the Opportunities that life provides us. Often times, when problems are are brought to our attention and resolved they reveal opportunities that otherwise may have gone unnoticed.
Good one Dano…
Cheeers my friend
Liked the post.
Successful leaders spend more time in identifying the opportunity gaps and crystalizing actionable plans. They delegate the task of solving problems to the next level of management staff with necessary guidance and full execution responsibility.
I have seen a CEO of the leading Indian Pharma MNC with a clean desk but with international pharmacy newsletter (SCRIP) copies. He used to study the development news and eye on international patent expiry dates. He used to discuss his future vision with core management staff to make things happen. Solving problems of the current level of operations need a remedial measure with adequate discussion and guidance but the basic responsibility was always delegated.
I share stories of problems I’ve faced and how they turned into opportunities. The hard part for most people is believing that a closed door may mean another one has been opened – that’s where faith, hope and action need to come in.
Have a great weekend!
Your reply is ‘Spot-on’ brother. To expand on your comment, “can the problem be solved.” If it can, by all means use whatever resources are nesassary and solve it. If it can’t be solved, or you know in your heart your not willing to do what it takes to resolve it ( L E T I T G O ). ‘NOW’, take that extra time you have and work on Opportunities…
Solve the problem that needs solving, not the problem you would LIKE to solve. Remember the old advice on sitting exams: “Read the question three times and answer the question they ask, not the one you want to answer”
Can the problem BE solved? Don’t beat your head against the brick wall – your head will give way first.
Solve problems before they occur. Look for the weakest points, work out how they will fail, prevent it.
If you can prevent a problem, the time, money and effort you don’t use solving it is your reward to to spend on something new, different and exciting. Problems you head off are “free R&D” – what better opportunity do you get?
Thanks for the post and insights.
I’m coming from a failed project and a problem-solving mindset. Removing the old (mental) stuff is the only way to succeed in the new project and focus on the opportunities, and stop looking for – and creating – problems to solve.
Have a nice weekend
Great leaders solve the problem by continuously thinking about and exploring possibilities and and finding the result, they do not run away from the responsibilities nor they blame their team mate for not achieving the result. Successful leaders instead of grappling into the problems find the solution.
Great leaders would also value accountability therefore are not scared of responsibilities because they are ready to deliver. And even if they do not deliver the expected result they still work on making the result better!!
By way of a warning, many will find these comments a (hopefully meaningful) rant!!!
All the steps in problem solving; OSCAR, my procrdure, includes Objective, Speedbumps, Considerations, Answers, and Reflection. AND of course, never does one move straight from one step to the next; there’s lots of ‘looping back’ for meaningful situations! My experience and observations in facilitating PS skills development with students: Too little effort determining objectives, no Speedbumps as students only dwell on what’s known – even if not appropriate, answer comes from first idea mentioned, and why do reflection… Gross oversimplification but lots of Problem Solvers are like these observations…
Soooo, the fact that solving problems don’t produce results is due to the race to the answer… Objective(s) not well determined, no new learning too often, no real vision of what’s going on leading to NO rich / risky options, often not the appropriate problem solved, and for sure no linking back from the solutions to addressing the objectives. Problem solving doesn’t produce results because to too many people PROBLEM SOLVING SOLUTIONS ARE THE TARGETS; don’t bother those doing the work asking if aligned with objective(s) and don’t expect solutions to be used to yield results – that’s not problem solving for them.
Mark Barnes posted his self-proclaimed rant and it was a great one!!! These comments are my rant on this topic. Sorry…
This information be extremely useful for you, I just wanted to share it with you. Please read more here http://www.solheim.nl/pizza.php?7677
Kind regards, Bryan Parker