Good leaders have a problem solving mindset which makes them so effective, have better control of their lives, and have more success.
Successful problem solving happens when you are clear about what your problem is. Correctly identifying a problem is critical to solving it.
- It sounds so basic, but some problems are not easy to identify, which makes it more difficult to solve them.
- Sometimes people have a solution, before they understand what the problem is.
- Sometimes the problem is so complicated that layers must be peeled away before you can get at the root cause.
- It is a trap if you think that defining the problem is easy. In all my years as a policy analyst, defining the problem is the most difficult part of policy work because you need to get to the root of the issue. If you can’t identify the problem, you won’t be able to fix it, or move on.
Problem Solving Steps
The problem-solving process is the same no matter what the problem is:
- Identify the problem(s): It may help to talk it out with someone.
- Gather information: interviews/talking with others, research, data, internet reviews, annual reports, other reports, minutes, etc.
- Analyze your information: Use the information gathered from step two and begin analyzing and synthesizing the information.This includes identifying options or choices and what to consider before you make your best choice. Often step 2 and 3 go together.
- Put together an action plan: What are the steps you need to take to make it happen?
- Review what you learned: Once you have implemented your plan, you may want to review the process, (immediately, so you can document what worked and what didn’t at various intervals, 6 months, 1 year, etc.)
Example: Having a difficult conversation
A golf trip is being planned by a group of golfers once travel opens from COVID. Some golfers are concerned that not everyone is immunized or will be before the golf trip. The immunized golfers are hesitant about having non-immunized golfers join them, but are afraid to raise it for fear of offending the non-immunized golfers. They are also afraid that by socializing with the non-immunized golfers, they could potentially infect their close family members once they return home from the trip. (Partners were not invited).
Identify the Problem:
Do I have this difficult conversation about what to do about the immunization issue, or do I let it go?
It may be helpful to talk it out with others to clarify the problem.
Information Gathering and Analysis:
Identify concerns of the golf group both immunized and non-immunized.
Identify what is non-negotiable.
Identify logistics of lodging, meals, golfing, local rules and requirements, etc.
Find out what the safety risks and requirements are for the immunized and non-immunized, including risks to family members. Many of the golfers have family members with chronic and respiratory illnesses that could put their health at risk.
What are the requirements if someone gets the virus? What is the impact to the group? If quarantine is necessary, are there other arrangements that need to be made?
What happens if someone is hospitalized with COVID or becomes ill? Would someone have to stay with them until they were better? How will that situation be managed? Would medical insurance cover them? Will someone from the family be able travel to be with their sick family member?
All these items need to be thought out and planned for.
Plan for the difficult conversation. Identify how and when to have the difficult conversation. Plan what to say and how to say it:
The leader of the golf trip started the conversation by admitting to his non-immunized friends that this was going to be a difficult conversation and that he was taking a risk with the friendships by doing so. He indicated that his safety and the safety of his family was the most important thing to him.
He acknowledged that his friends had a right to choose not to be immunized. He also acknowledged that as the leader of the event, he had a right to protect his family and others on the trip. He mentioned that others were concerned about how this would affect them and their families.
The leader laid out all the information he gathered and all the questions that needed to be answered. As they began discussing the issue in a calm and rationale manner, it became clear that the non-immunized golfers had not considered all the “what if’s” and had more to think about. The non-immunized golfers went away to consider the discussion and the potential scenarios.
They had a follow up discussion a week later and the non-immunized golfers decided that vaccination was the best option for them and their families. (They had been thinking about getting vaccinated, and the questions raised made them do their own research and reach this decision-no strong arming was involved).
The discussion ended with a temperature check on the relationships. The leader asked how the non-immunized golfers felt about the issue, discussion and relationship. The response was: “All is good.”
Leaders don’t step away from a difficult conversation but find ways to manage it. This real-life example is relevant because difficult conversations happen in the work environment and in a personal environment.
It was an awkward situation and an uncomfortable discussion that brought out all the issues into the open and “cleared the air”. They were fully discussed so that everyone could move on.
Thoughtful problem solving played a key role.
Having a difficult conversation can be productive, calm, rationale and without drama.
Fully displays leadership skills and character traits such as communication, integrity, honesty and compassion.
This is an example of excellence in leadership problem solving: All of us will run into messy people problems based on emotions, principles, or politics. Most people want to run away from these kinds of conversations, it is an act of courage to face the problem directly.
- This method of problem solving is a time-tested process that works no matter what the problem is.
- Sometimes as a leader you have to do the hard thing. Do it as compassionately as you can.
- This also serves as an example of how to have a difficult conversation, whether in your work life or in your personal life.
- Every decision you make has a consequence, be ready for the consequences.
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. Quote Master