The Unexpected Answer that Solved One Department’s Issues

It’s wasteful and frustrating to talk to the wrong people about the right things.

The solution:

I coach a leader who reported that the problems in one department disappeared after he replaced the supervisor.

I asked, “Did you change anything else?”

He replied, “No.”

The answer is ‘who’.

Finding the right person isn’t easy. But this is certain. Things get better quickly when the right person shows up.

What vs. who:

Leaders spend lots of time ‘whating’ and too little time ‘whoing’.

  1. What should we do to fix this issue? Vs. Who might solve this issue?
  2. What went wrong? Vs. Who might pull us forward?
  3. What is the problem? Vs. Who has the experience and skills to resolve this problem?

A great ‘who’ trumps a clear ‘what’.

You can’t ignore problems, but in my experience, leaders spend too much time thinking about what to do and too little thinking about who should do it.

You’re working way too hard if you solve the problem before assigning the person.

You know enough:

You already know enough about most of the problems you face to identify the right ‘who’.

‘Whats’ are obvious. Waste is up. Production is delayed. Relationships are strained.

You’ve spent hours thinking about what to do. But the answer is ‘who’.

The right ‘who’ has:

  1. A track record of learning and growth. Problems are solved by learners, not knowers.
  2. Energy. Experience is helpful. Energy is indispensable.
  3. Experience with the team, if possible. Solution-finding requires trust.
  4. Transparency. Secrecy prolongs issues and exacerbates problems.
  5. Candor. You can’t dance around an issue and expect to solve it at the same time.

Tip: Assign a new person to a problem or issue. If things don’t get better quickly, assign someone else. Look for improvement, not perfection.

How might leaders focus more on ‘who’ and less on ‘what’?

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