With as many problems as we all face in our work and life, it seems as if there is never enough time to solve each one without dealing with some adversity along the way. Problems keep mounting so fast that we find ourselves taking shortcuts to temporarily alleviate the tension points, so we can move onto the next problem. In the process, we fail to solve the core of each problem we are dealt; thus we continuously get caught in the trap of a never-ending cycle that makes it difficult to find any real resolutions. Sound familiar?
Problem solving is the essence of what leaders exist to do. As leaders, the goal is to minimize the occurrence of problems—which means we must be courageous enough to tackle them head-on before circumstances force our hand. We must be resilient in our quest to create and sustain momentum for the organization and people we serve. But the reality of the workplace finds us dealing with people who complicate matters with their corporate politicking, self-promotion, power-plays and ploys, and envy. Silos, lack of budgets and resources, and many other random acts or circumstances also make it harder for people to be productive.
Competitors equally create problems for us when they unexpectedly convert a long-standing client, establish a new industry relationship, or launch a new product, brand, or corporate strategy. Mergers and acquisitions keep us on our toes and further distract us from solving existing problems by creating new ones.
As Karl Popper, one of the most influential 20th century philosophers of science, once eloquently stated, “All life is problem solving.” I’ve often contended that the best leaders are the best problem solvers. They have the patience to step back and see the problem at-hand through broadened observation; circular vision. They see around, beneath, and beyond the problem itself. They see well-beyond the obvious. The most effective leaders approach problems through a lens of opportunity. Leaders who lack this wisdom approach problems with linear vision—thus only seeing the problem that lies directly in front of them and blocking the possibilities that lie within the problem. As such, they never see the totality of what the problem represents—that it can actually serve as an enabler to improve existing best practices, protocols, and standard operating procedures for growing and competing in the marketplace.
A leader must never view a problem as a distraction, but rather as a strategic enabler for continuous improvement and opportunities previously unseen.
Whether you are a leader for a large corporation or a small business owner, here are the four most effective ways to solve problems.
1. Transparent Communication
Problem solving requires transparent communication where everyone’s concerns and points of view are freely expressed. I’ve seen one too many times how difficult it is to get to the root of the matter in a timely manner when people do not speak up. Yes, communication is a fundamental necessity. That is why, when those involved in the problem would rather not express themselves—fearing they may threaten their job and/or expose their own or someone else’s wrongdoing—the problem-solving process becomes a treasure hunt. Effective communication towards problem solving happens because of a leader’s ability to facilitate an open dialogue between people who trust her intentions and feel that they are in a safe environment to share why they believe the problem happened as well as specific solutions.
2. Break Down Silos
Transparent communication requires you to break down silos and enable a boundary-less organization whose culture is focused on the betterment of a healthier whole. Unnecessary silos invite hidden agendas rather than welcome efficient cross-functional collaboration and problem solving. Organizational silos are the root cause of most workplace problems and are why many of them never get resolved. This is why today’s new workplace must embrace an entrepreneurial spirit where employees can freely navigate and cross-collaborate to connect the problem-solving dots; where everyone can be a passionate explorer who knows their own workplace dot and its intersections. When you know your workplace dot, you have a much greater sense of your sphere of influence. This is almost impossible to gauge when you operate in silos that potentially keep you from having any influence at all.
3. Open-Minded People
Breaking down silos and communication barriers requires people to be openminded. In the end, problem solving is about people working together to make the organization and the people it serves better. Therefore, if you are stuck working with people who are closed-minded, effective problem solving becomes a long and winding road of misery. There are many people in the workplace who enjoy creating unnecessary chaos so that their inefficiencies are never exposed. These are the types of people (loafers and leeches) who make it difficult for problems to be solved because they slow the process down while trying to make themselves look more important. Open-minded people see beyond the obvious details in front of them and view risk as their best friend. They tackle problems head-on and move forward with the business of driving growth and innovation. Close-minded employees turn things around to make it more about themselves and less about what is required to convert a problem into a new opportunity.
4. A Solid Foundational Strategy
Without strategy, change is merely substitution, not evolution. A solid strategy must be implemented in order to solve any problem. Many leaders attempt to dissect a problem rather than identify the strategy for change that lies within the problem itself. Effective leaders who are comfortable with problem solving always know how to gather the right people, resources, budget, and knowledge from past experiences. They inspire people to lift their game by making the problem-solving process highly collaborative; for them, it’s an opportunity to bring people closer together. I’ve always believed that you don’t know the true potential and character of a person until you see the way they solve problems. Effective leaders connect the dots and map-out a realistic plan of action in advance. They have a strategy that serves as the foundation for how the problem will be approached and managed. They anticipate the unexpected and utilize the strengths of their people to assure the strategy leads to a sustainable solution.
Never shoot from the hip when problem solving. Avoid guessing. Take enough time to step back and assess the situation and the opportunities that each problem represents. Make the problem-solving process more efficient by recognizing that each problem has its own nuances that may require a distinct strategy towards a viable resolution.
You know that you have great leadership in your organization when problem solving becomes a seamless process that enables the people and the organization to grow and get better. If problem solving creates chaos, you may have a serious leadership deficiency. The 4Ward Consulting team has helped several hundred operations effectively increase problem solving to lead them to success. If we can be of assistance to you and your team, please give us a call.
Ben Hershey is CEO of the 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC team. When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward Consulting Group team. 4Ward Consulting Group is the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.
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