We have a problem.
Sound familiar? Members of every organization across the land have uttered these four words, because things inevitably go wrong. Unplanned events occur, uncontrollable variables pop into view, or someone says or does something they shouldn’t have. If these walls could talk, right?
The problems will never go away, so it is how we respond to them that matters most.
Time for a pop quiz. When it feels like the sky is falling, what do you do?
a.) Panic. Cry from the mountaintop that this is a BIG DEAL.
b.) Just chill. This, too, shall pass.
c.) Don your hero cape and solve it.
Did you choose option A? We’ve all done it. First, we darken the doorway of any officemate that will listen. They can see that look in our eye. Next thing they know, we’re regaling them with the tale of our latest crisis. We monologue. We grumble. We huff and puff. All the while, the most optimistic of our coworkers awaits our shift into problem-solving mode, which sadly rarely occurs.
“What do you want to do about it?” they ask.
We gasp, look at them funny, and then snap back into our rant.
This is called Problem Admiring. It is like staring at a painting, appreciating the lines, colors, forms, shapes, and textures – valuing all that make up its composition. Only, while works of art are meant to be admired, problems are not.
What about option B? Maybe you know this person. Nothing shakes them. Something wrong? No biggie. It’s all good, man. It is what it is.
While we stare in awe at their unflappability, we find ourselves mentally willing these people into action. Wind-up toys can be fun, but they are quickly cast aside for something a little more self-propelled.
How can we, and our well-meaning coworkers, avoid getting conked in the head by falling debris, the likely fate of those who choose options A and B?
Try option C.
Got a problem? Solve it.
Problem-solving is a critical function for leaders and requires more than just sheer will. Some ability is required.
Ineffective problem-solvers speed through an issue, treating it like a box that needs checking. They jump on the quick and easy way out. I agree that there is merit in choosing a solution over no solution; but not until you’ve considered the alternatives.
Effective problem-solvers, on the other hand, assess the situation, weigh the pros and cons of their options, and employ the best solution based on the available information.
But, those are just the basics.
While superpowers are not essential, one could benefit from a utility belt of advanced tactics. I’ve had the pleasure of working along-side some real heroes in the problem-solving universe. What made them so great?
1.) They own the problem
Problem-solvers know that from whom a problem generates matters in the least. The second it lands on their desk, they rise and take action.
Instead of peering ahead with blinders on, hoping someone else will notice the giant mess, hero problem-solvers say, “I got this.”
They know that if they don’t address it, no one else will.
It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are held accountable.
2.) They check themselves before they wreck themselves
A problem-solving hero’s kryptonite is himself. Before they save the day, they must deal with the biases, assumptions, personal agendas, and emotional clutter impairing their vision.
They start by being open and curious. Then they pause long enough to separate fact from fiction.
What’s the first rule of their code? If you can’t prove it, don’t use it.
Nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
~ William Shakespeare
3.) They channel Sherlock Holmes
Mr. Holmes, who believes the little things are infinitely the most important, is our guide for finding the truth. Fanatical about observation, logical reasoning and the art of deduction, he knows that before a problem can be solved, it must first be understood.
Problem-solving heroes probe multiple sources and ask penetrating questions. They collect facts, measure angles, and look between the lines to spot hidden patterns. They follow bread crumbs, look behind bushes, and dig past the surface until the root – or the “real” – problem is found.
Most of all? They have a Watson – someone with whom to bounce and challenge ideas, but who doesn’t simply serve as an echo chamber.
Never theorize before you have data. Invariably, you end up twisting facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.
~ Sherlock Holmes
“The sky is falling,” is a common idiom from the story of Chicken Little, indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent. The moral of that story is to have courage and don’t believe everything you’re told.
When it feels like the sky is falling, leaders have two choices. They can join the fear-mongering and navel-gazing until the sky actually does fall.
Or, they can be bold, seek the truth, and keep that sky right where it belongs.
That’s how leaders become heroes.