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What's the Problem?

If you're in a leadership role, you're never at a loss for problems to solve. But be careful about getting too involved in problems that don't really deserve your time and energy. Engaging in the wrong problem is like stepping in quicksand. Down you go!

Instead your role is to help others work together best to solve the problem. Challenge. Provoke. Listen. Guide. Don't fix it yourself.

Help people build capability instead.

Yes, I know you're a good problem solver because you wouldn't be in your role otherwise. Problem solving is an essential leadership skill. It's especially hard to resist doing if you've been trained in problem solving in previous roles. Technical and engineering types often have unique challenges in that regard.

The higher you climb as a leader, the more problems will pertain to people issues -- how people function together -- how they perform, engage, communicate, etc. Solutions are not always apparent.

Rather than grapple with these sensitive and difficult challenges, you might prefer to tackle the problem someone has unexpectedly dropped in your lap.

Here are some reasons why it's difficult to resist immediate problem solving:

  • Habit: You've solved problems your whole career. Why stop now?
  • Sense of accomplishment: You can check it off your list. Done!
  • Reward: You've been recognized or rewarded for solving problems.
  • Expectation: You think people expect you to solve it, and you don't want to disappoint. You have trouble saying "No."
  • Quick fix: It seems like the problem can be solved more easilyif you just take care of it yourself.

Instead, break the habit. Catch yourself on the front end. Determine who else needs to be involved and hold them accountable. Facilitate instead of fix.

In short, don't stop problem solving, just pick the best problem to solve.

The best problem will:

  • Involve "people" dynamics
  • Be strategically important
  • Test your leadership and decision making skills
  • Likely have a more simple solution than you realize
  • Pay off big when solved

Keep your attention on the matters that help you achieve major objectives or prevent significant setbacks.

Pick your problems carefully. Don't let them sink you.

PS -- If you need a hand to get you out of the sand (unless you're at the beach), let me know if I can help.

By Gayle Lantz

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