Whether you’re a leader of a small startup, or a relatively large organization, chances are you’ve had (or are having) a period where you’re dealt with many problems, and there’s always that feeling that there is not enough time to adequately solve them; once we’re stable, we need to jump to the next fire. This process of constantly putting out fires stretches resources and we fail to actually solve the core of each problem, it results in a vicious cycle that fails to produce any real opportunities.
Which is why to be effective you need to truly solve the problems you’re dealt with, not just put out the fires. A good leader tries to mitigate the problem before it compounds, before the driving forces dictate how you’ll respond; to do this effectively the organization and its leadership need to remain resilient by building up enough capability to sustain a momentum that can turn a problem into an opportunity.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done; typically, when you’re in an environment constantly putting out fires, chances are you’re also environment full of internal politics, self-promotion, and you’ve probably even witnessed tactics to pull others down resulting in careers being ruined. And if you’re lucky enough not to have that toxic environment, chances are the organizational structures are not conducive enough for true problem solving. Or if you’re really lucky and have an agile organizational structure, than you have to worry about the outside forces; is there a competitor that’s about to poach a big client, or is there a competitor launching a new offering, or perhaps new regulations are coming online, or maybe a merger & acquisition is tying up resources and hiding the true problems.
The point is solving problems isn’t easy, but putting out fires isn’t that much better either; as an effective leader you need to step back and see the full problem, only from there can you see what opportunities lay. If you’re only preoccupied with what’s in front of you, it becomes harder to truly see what the problem represents; how it can be an enabler for new opportunities, or a driver for improved processes and best practices. A good leader should not allow a problem to be the distraction, rather they should package the problem into a strategic enabler for improvement, one that can lead to a higher ROI.
So how exactly can leadership effectively solve problems? It’s by being transparent, embracing agility, being open minded, and develop a foundational strategy.
When dealing with a problem the most important thing is to be transparent about it and create a space where everyone can share their concerns. If individuals attach fear, such as losing their jobs or exposing a colleague’s wrong-doing, then there is a split in resources that are actively working against each other; one group hiding the problem, the other group trying to discover the problem. Effective leadership needs to promote a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable enough to share their points of view. It is only then can the leadership team truly map-out the problem, and begin to see what opportunities lay with the viable solutions.
Organizational structures are an impediment especially when dealing with complex problems that span multiple departments. The siloed structure promotes competing agendas which also create a split in resources that are actively working against each other. Embracing agility with cross-functional teams is conducive to effective problem solving; employees are free to hunt down the problem across departments and are better able to connect-the-dots which also results in better collaboration and a stronger organization.
Being Open Minded
In toxic environments there are those closed-minded individuals that are focused on their image, trying to make themselves look more important, and as a result run interference making problem solving a long winding road of misery. Open-minded individuals don’t necessarily care about their image, their more interested in genuinely trying to solve the problem and aren’t afraid to pursue fringe ideas if they have merit. Open mindedness fosters the ability to convert a problem into an opportunity.
Develop A Foundational Strategy
Without a useable strategy you’re unable to reap the benefits of problem solving, instead you’ll spend your resources to dissect the problem rather than developing ways to change and evolve. Effective leadership approaches problems with a plan, a foundational strategy on how to approach and manage the problem, one that utilizes the capabilities at hand in order to drive to a sustainable solution. Having such a strategy also takes out the guess work and provides enough space to assess the situation from a more holistic vantage point.
Failure is the greatest opportunity for growth; effective problem solving is the next best thing. With effective leadership problem solving is a seamless activity that continual grows and evolves the company; every problem presents new opportunities.
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