In your world, how are employees promoted to leadership positions? Is it the best test takers? The one who seems to have the boss’s ear? The most senior employee? How many times have you seen the criteria to be the best problem solver? From our perspective, one of the most important skills a leader must possess and hone is the ability to identify and solve problems. When you are dealing with people and you have the responsibility to grow individuals and teams, you better be prepared to deal with problems. All too often though, leadership doesn’t deal with problems appropriately because it requires two things that are in short supply; critical thinking skills and time. Allow me to give you some tips to help:
1. Make problem solving meetings open, honest and collaborative: Someone in your organization has the answer to your problem and it’s more than likely someone at the lower level of that organization but the answer is never heard because only leaders have the answers. BIG MISTAKE. Involve everyone you can in problem solving, allow the intelligence of your people to help you save the day. Respect, trust and progress are usually the result.
2. Break down the silos: Silos are created when big picture thinking goes away and each little unit, within the organization, feels unloved and uncared for. The result is politicking, defending one’s “turf” and self- promotion. If you’re not constantly preaching the power of WE, you’re missing the opportunity of everybody and anybody making that crucial contribution to solving the problem you’re dealing with today.
3. Educate your leaders early and often: Problem solving, like leadership, is a skill and the more you do it, the easier and more fun it becomes. Give your leaders the education they need and deserve. Their confidence will be contagious and maybe the meetings will become more productive.
4. Make problem solving part of your culture: Thank your people for their contributions, ask them for their opinion, check to see what their problems are and run your problems past them. If problem solving isn’t a positive experience, if it isn’t something you take pride in, and if it isn’t moving you forward in your drive for excellence, well, at least you now know you’re doing it wrong.
There are many approaches and methods to problem solving such as brainstorming, trial and error, algorithms, divide and conquer, root cause analysis, etc. They all have their pros and cons and multiple approaches may be needed but one thing is clear, they are all enhanced by a group effort rather than an individual effort.
Great leadership is the culmination of a multitude of skills combined with the art of applying the right skills at the right time and at or near the top of the list is the ability to problem solve enthusiastically. If the culture at your organization encourages problem solving at every level, at least as your people move into leadership positions, they will have a leg up on one of the most important skills they will need. So be that force for change, become a daily problem solver.