Not All Problems are Problems – 5 Real Problems for Leaders

A problem to you is a solution to someone else.

Friction and conflict are advantages when they inspire learning, growth, or innovation.

You might believe bureaucracy is a problem. But in top-down organizations bureaucracy is a solution. Rules and procedures prevent deviation and congeal power.

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Recurring problems indicate you are the problem.

5 real problems for leaders:

#1. Blaming.

Lack of responsibility always results in recurring issues and worsening problems.

When you hear blaming from team members ask, “What do YOU want to do about that?” Listen. Expect action.

#2. Patterns.

Problems give meaning to leadership. Recurring problems destroy leadership.

Recurring problems indicate you are the problem.

Recurring problems won’t be solved with the same conversation. Never have the same conversation about the same problem more than two times.

Unsuccessful strategies don’t magically work on the third go round. Patterns are resolved by escalating interventions.

#3. Distraction.

Anything that persistently distracts you from your mission is corrosive. Distractions often seem small, but that’s what makes them deadly.

Identify and eliminate distraction when you end the day wondering what you accomplished.

#4. Fixing.

Fixing problems inflates your ego but disempowers people. The more fixing you do – the more fixing you have to do.

Expect competent people to solve their own issues.

2 questions to silence your fixer:

  1. What have you tried to resolve this issue?
  2. What else might you try to solve this problem?

Note: Some problems require your involvement. Is your authority needed? Do you have unique knowledge?

#5. Inevitability.

Let go anomalies like the manager who loses his/her cool once in a blue moon.

Address any problem that inevitably gets worse if left to itself.

A better way:

Successful leaders seize opportunities.

The seduction of problem-solving is a problem. Focus on seizing opportunities, not on solving problems.

Your biggest leadership opportunity is developing talent, both yours and others’.

Which ‘real’ problem seems most relevant to you? Why?

Added resources:

The Discipline of Innovation (hbr.org)