Employees expect leaders to solve problems both big and small. But a leader’s attention will be focused on issues of significance (financial crises, unexpected mergers, and acquisitions), which means medium-sized problems are often put aside, to return later with a vengeance! As Noble Peace Prize winner and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, “All too frequently a problem evaded is a crisis invited”.
Great leaders don’t play the blame game. Instead they use a “solution-oriented” approach to resolve problems.
They use the why lens. Highly respected leaders only solve problems within their control. Ones connected to their biggest why. They consider problems from a fundamental point of view.
· Is this our problem?
· Why should we solve this problem?
· What happens if we don’t?
· How would the solution contribute to accomplishing our most important goals?
Once they have answers, they explore solutions. Around 2013, Royal Philips in Amsterdam noticed the lighting market was stagnating. CEO Frans van Houten asked those types of questions. Armed with the answers, he concluded it would not make sense for Philips to continue with lighting. Philips now focuses on healthcare technology. By approaching problems through the why lens, van Houten was able to change the direction of the company and keep it operable. A clear benefit of applying solution-oriented problem solving.
They are inspired by problems. Without problems, a business will lose its fire, passion, and dynamism. While many leaders perceive problems as distracters, first-class leaders embrace problems as opportunities to make breakthroughs. Leaders know that if they are unable to solve the problem their competitors will, pushing them out of the market.
Problems fuel great leaders, providing opportunities to learn and grow to the next level. Great leaders don’t say, “Why me?” or “Why now?”. They say, “Try me” or “Let’s make the most of it.”. The greater the problem, the hungrier they are for a solution. Leaders like Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates view problems as golden opportunities to disrupt the market and revolutionize the customer experience.
They openly admit there is a problem. Great leaders acknowledge there is a problem and demonstrate the severity of the problem and the benefit of the solution to stakeholders, partners, and shareholders. By establishing an open environment, great leaders avoid creating silos. This way, the leader not only takes responsibility for making the problem transparent, they explore different dimensions of the problem, consequently benefiting from others’ ideas.
They separate problems from people. Great leaders separate problems from people. They ask questions until they understand the issue. A clear understanding of a problem delivers two-thirds of the solution. When people attribute blame, highly qualified leaders focus on the problem at hand, keeping emotions controlled. By doing so, they can approach the situation fairly and find a suitable solution.
They have a plan. Great leaders do not guess. They identify the core of the problem, forecast scenarios, and produce backup plans before formulating and sharing with stakeholders. This creates the trust and commitment necessary for implementation. They assess actions and adjust whenever necessary. By analyzing, they focus on the easiest implementation route and work around any blocks standing in the way.
Top leaders make sure their organization stands steady when in crisis. They create a thorough problem-solving process. Great leaders avoid panic at all costs. They remain cool and retain a sense of humor. They know if they panic, their team members will lose hope and motivation.
They engage those affected by the problem. Those who have a stake in the problem and the relevant solution often know the most. Solution-oriented leaders listen to the needs and concerns of all involved parties. When respected by the majority, leaders have buy-in and are able to focus on solutions. This caring attitude helps them build great relationships. When the relationship is good, people are prepared to walk that extra mile for their leaders.
Great leaders create an environment where team members can freely share their views without feeling insecure about their position. It is the leader’s responsibility to guarantee freedom to speak up without fear of negative consequences.
They don’t point fingers. Great leaders know that finger pointing does not solve problems. It only adds new ones. It makes employees singled out feel broken, guilty, and belittled. Instead of blaming anyone, the leader starts problem solving by narrowing down the issue. When the problem has been addressed, and potentially solved, they ask their team members what they learned from the experience and how they can improve vulnerable areas.
Now examine how you approach problems. What are the first things you do when you encounter a severe problem? What can you take away from the above to ensure your future approach to problem solving is more solution-oriented?