Category Archives: Leadership

Five Stages of Problem Solving

I could write how problems are opportunities in disguise (many are).

Or, I could describe all the ways we can work together to find solutions to the problems we face.

But, I think it’s most useful to describe the five-stage problem-solving model that most of us follow in our day-to-day lives.  It doesn’t matter if these problems are personal or professional…the same stages are usually in play:

1. Ignore the Problem

Ignoring a problem doesn’t mean not knowing about it.  We know it’s there, but we purposely choose to ignore it.  This gives us plausible deniability.  There’s a lot of hope involved in ignoring a problem.  Our hope is that if ignored long enough, the problem will solve itself, or someone else will take ownership and find a solution.

2. Deny the Problem

This is a bit more active than ignoring the problem.  We acknowledge that something is wrong, but it isn’t really a problem.  By consciously changing our perceptions, and the perceptions of those around us, we can plausibly deny (there’s that phrase again) that a problem exists.  And, if it really is a problem, it’s not a problem for “us” to solve.

3. Blame Someone (Else)

When denial stops working, the focus shifts to ensuring we aren’t held responsible for the problem.  We aren’t ignoring or denying the problem.  But, we know we aren’t the cause, for sure. Therefore, we shouldn’t be expected to provide a solution.

The most advanced version of this stage is to not only blame someone else.  But, make sure the world knows we warned everyone that this type of problem could happen…if only someone had listened to us in the first place.  I call this person the omnipotent blame shifter.

4. Accept the Problem

We finally accept that this is a real problem.  It’s our problem, whether we caused it or not.  We own it. We also own the task of finding the best solution.  This is the trickiest stage of all…

If we caused this problem, we must now admit our weakness, our mistake, our error in judgment, our previous lack of attention or understanding.  We may even have to admit that something happened that was out of our control.

If we didn’t cause this problem, our challenge is to put aside blame, and focus on solving the problem.  We don’t have time to teach lessons at this point.  Our focus must be finding solutions to the problem we’ve just accepted.

5. Address (Fix) the Problem

Ah…we finally arrive at the solution stage.  We’ve accepted the problem.  It’s real.  It’s ours.  And, now we (and possibly a large team we’ve assembled) will fix the problem.

Ironically, this may be the easiest stage of all, even if it’s the one we’ve worked so hard to avoid. It sits patiently, waiting for us to arrive.  To focus our attention, our effort and our creativity on delivering ideas and solutions to the problem.

Imagine the energy we’d have available to solve (and prevent) problems if we didn’t waste our time ignoring them, denying them, and finding others to blame.

 

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

 

The Pebble

As in the small rock that somehow slipped into your hiking boot.

Can you give your boot a quick wiggle and move that pebble out from under your foot?  Maybe, but guess what.  It’ll find it’s way back under your heal in no time.  They always do.

Does it matter that you’re making great time up the mountain, and have lots of momentum on your side?  Nope.  That little pebble demands attention.

That’s the way of the small irritant.  It’s there and it won’t be leaving on its own.  It will start to cause damage, become more distracting, and take more of your attention.  Try as you might, there’s no way to ignore it.

The only thing you can do is stop and take off your pack, then take off your boot and dump that little pebble out.

Eliminate the irritant and get refocused on the trail ahead.

Sure, it’s annoying to stop.  But, the alternative is far worse.

Photo by Aneta Ivanova on Unsplash

 

The Power of Chaos

Chaos is easy to create.  Eliminate judgment, eliminate priorities, and you’ve set the stage for a good dose of chaos.

Chaos is seductive.  It gives the appearance of action while preventing forward progress.

All the planning, all the preparation, all the foresight…none of it will prevent chaos when we give it control.

Chaos provides excellent camouflage for mediocre results.

After all, how can I be held accountable when all around me is chaos?  If I’m able to deliver any results amidst all the chaos, I’m a hero.  It doesn’t matter if my results are of the highest quality or even the desired quantity.

Look around you.  Is your work environment chaotic?  What about your personal time?  Chaotic?

Is all this chaos creating a positive environment for the changes you want, or is it sapping energy and stopping progress?

The secret to chaos is that you own the choice.  You decide how chaotic your life is.  You have the power over chaos, even when it appears that chaos is in control.

When you choose your priorities, choose what gets your attention, choose what to ignore, and choose what to eliminate, you take back control from chaos.

Be careful…

As you consciously take steps to eliminate chaos, you will be held accountable for the results you should be producing, instead of the results you sneak past all the chaos.

In the end, living in chaos is easier than being truly effective…probably why so many people choose it.

 

Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash

 

 

If you look…

…for things that are frustrating

…for people to disappoint you

…for what’s missing

…for situations that are hopeless

That’s exactly what you’ll find.

If you look…

…for opportunities to be thankful

…for people to surprise you

…for what’s included

…for situations with a path to success

That’s exactly what you’ll find.

It’s easy to be disappointed.  Easy to be frustrated.  Even easier to want more.

Are you seeking the good, or just the opposite?

Do you expect failure, or success?

Your expectations and perspective create the outcome.

Are you a manager?  A parent?  A coach?

Guess what…the people who count on you the most will quickly learn what you’re looking for.  If you’re looking for success, they will deliver it.  Looking for failure?  They will deliver that.

You find what you seek.  The choice is yours.

 

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

 

 

The Cow Stuck in the Mud

“How did that cow get there?”

“Why wasn’t the mud bog fenced off?”

“Who was supposed to turn off the sprinklers before this place got all muddy?”

“Why do we have cows in this area anyway?”

“Can you believe that this cow just walked right into that mud and got herself stuck?”

“What was that cow thinking?”

“I told you this could happen, and now it has!”

“There’s no way you’re gonna pin this on me.  I never told that cow to go there.”

“We’ll need some pretty heavy equipment to get this cow out, and that’s going to be expensive.”

 

I’ve never seen a real cow stuck in real mud.

But, I’ve seen lots of metaphorical cows stuck in deep metaphorical mud.

The dialogue about the cow usually revolves around how the cow got there, who should have prevented it, who’s to blame, and the costs.

The one thing that’s usually missing from the conversation is how we’re going to get that cow out of the mud, clean her up, and send her on her way.

All the talking in the world isn’t going to get that cow out of the mud.  In fact, the longer the cow is stuck, the more risk there is that the cow will get seriously hurt.

That cow will remain there until you take action.  Enlist the help of others.  Then, work creatively and diligently to get that cow out of the mud.

There’s plenty of time to discuss all the why’s, how’s, and whose at fault…after you save the cow.

Stop talking, stop pointing blame, stop finding excuses.

Get to work and rescue that cow!

 

Photo Credit:  Joshua De @unsplash.com

 

No Surprises…the Secret to Managing Up

“I love spontaneity, as long as it’s well-planned.”  –Says nearly everyone in business

Surprises can be great.

We love surprises when they bring unexpected wealth, unexpected fun, or unexpected comfort.

Sadly, surprises aren’t always good news:

  • Surprise! The IRS just sent you an audit letter.
  • Surprise! That small mole on your cheek is melanoma.
  • Surprise! That neighbor you thought was a nice guy is wanted in another state for armed robbery.
  • Surprise! Microsoft just added a feature to their operating system that makes your profitable utility app obsolete.
  • Surprise! Your private financial and credit information was just hacked at Equifax (well, that type of thing shouldn’t really be a surprise nowadays).
  • Surprise! Your most promising employee is leaving your company…to join your competition!
  • Surprise! The executive that “owns” your company’s contract and projects just got fired.

Surprises in business are rarely the good kind.

In fact, a “good” surprise in business can become a nightmare if you’re not prepared.

Think about that sudden and unexpected increase in demand for your service or product.  Great news!  But, now your staff is feeling overworked and things are starting to break under the pressure of all this new business.

How does all of this connect with managing up?

The number one thing your boss, and your boss’s boss (and so on) need from you is to minimize the surprises that come their way.

Does this mean you should keep information away from them?  Of course not!

It means creating an open and thorough communication path between you and your boss.

It means anticipating surprises before they happen.  Preparing for the unexpected, since you can always expect it.  I’ve seen lots of surprises that shouldn’t have been surprises at all.

Your boss needs to know when something is wrong, or about to go wrong.

Your boss needs you to be honest.  Always. Even if you’re the one causing the surprise.

If you, or someone in your organization, make an expensive mistake, your boss needs to know about it.  Now.  More importantly, your boss needs to know how you plan to learn from that mistake, and avoid a similar mistake like this one in the future.

If you see or hear something in the marketplace that can help (or hurt) your organization, your boss needs to hear from you.  Now.

The last thing you want is for your boss to learn about a problem (or a surprise, which may be the same thing) within your organization from someone else.  This does two things:

  1. Lets your boss know that you may not understand that something is going wrong, and
  2. Makes your boss wonder if you’re hiding bad news and if you can be trusted.

When I was a kid, we lived in a small 3-bedroom house.  We had a hallway that got pitch black when all the doors were shut.  Even when your eyes adjusted, there was almost no light to see where you were going.  I always had this (unfounded) fear that I might run into something, hit my head, or crack my shins on some unseen edge.

Your boss might as well be walking in that same dark hallway, whether he or she realizes it.  It’s tough to see what’s coming, and in the real world, that fear of being hit by something in the darkness is often justified.

Many of the lessons we learn from the “school of hard knocks” begin as surprises.

Lesson One:  expect the unexpected.

Lesson Two:  make sure your boss knows what’s coming.

Lesson Three:  don’t ever forget about Lesson Two, and you’ll be doing a great job of “managing up” in the process.

 

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

Baby Steps…

-Don’t look like much at the beginning

-Are difficult to measure

-Take lots of patience

-Require focus

-Won’t bring acclaim (at first)

-Are seldom seen or appreciated

-Are quietly rebellious (which makes them fun)

-Deliver results.

It doesn’t matter if you’re building the world’s longest suspension bridge, assembling a 500-piece puzzle, or rolling out a new digital marketing campaign for your business.

The key to success in any of these endeavors is baby steps.  A relentless pursuit of the smallest possible step in the right direction will yield surprisingly impactful results.

A big challenge with pursuing the smallest steps is the overwhelming desire to provide evidence of progress.  First to someone else, and then to yourself.

Baby steps aren’t impressive when measured individually.  Most people can’t see them.

The power lies in being the one who sees them.  More importantly, when you motivate others to take baby steps with you, their impact will be profound…often before anyone realizes what’s happening.  Multiplication drives organizations, especially when it comes to baby steps.

Just for giggles, look back every now and then.  You might be surprised to see how far those baby steps have taken you.

 

Photo:  Unsplash.com, Emma Frances Logan Barker

Strategic Rebellion

I’ve had a few chances recently to watch my grandkids coloring.

It was a bit torturous for me, watching as they scribbled around the patterns, with no regard for the lines.  Was that a horse, or maybe a flower?  It didn’t matter to them.  Color selection was random.  A green horse?  Perfect.  Blue?  Even better.

Faced with this onslaught of coloring chaos, what’s the first piece of grandfatherly advice I wanted to give?  You guessed it:  Try staying inside the lines, which would inevitably be followed by advice on color choice and coloring patterns.

Most of us were taught from an early age to color inside the lines, follow the rules, avoid poking the bear, err on the side of caution, measure twice and cut once.

These are all good guidelines…most of the time.

However, I’ve found that a sprinkling of “strategic rebellion” from time to time can be quite useful.  Poke that bear, make a few waves, dare to color outside the lines.  In fact, who needs lines?  Just bring some color and see what happens.

Thankfully, I caught my advice before giving it.  It remained safely in my head.  They have plenty of time to learn about staying inside the lines.  Here’s hoping they also get a nice dose of strategic rebellion along the way.

In the meantime, purple is a perfect color for grass.

 

Cage Fights, Roulette and the Law of Large Numbers

unsplash-joshua-clay-1

When you enter the octagon (speaking metaphorically, but maybe literally), it’s just you and your opponent. Only your strength, skill, speed, luck, stamina, cunning, toughness and courage will help you find victory.

If you play roulette, the chance that the ball will land on red or black is the same…a little over 47%. Remember the green 0 is in there to mess things up.

But, what if you only have the time and money to play roulette for ten spins?  Will the distribution of red and black numbers come out to just over 47% each?  Maybe, but probably not.

What if you could spin the wheel 1,000 times?  Would the distribution of red and black approach 47% each?  That’s much more likely.  In fact, the Law of Large Numbers says as much.

What about that cage fight?  Theoretically, you have a 50% chance of winning, all things being equal.

Of course, all things are never equal in a cage fight (or real life).

The other guy is meaner, stronger, faster, and more skilled.  You didn’t sleep well last night, you have that nagging knee injury that always shows itself at the wrong time.  You don’t punch very hard, and you’ve heard that he has a great ground game.  You have no idea what having a great ground game means, but it sounds dangerous, and that was the sound of the bell.

How’s that 50% chance looking?  More like 5%, or maybe 1%.

What if you could fight the guy 1,000 times?  Would your chances improve?  Would you ever approach the 50% mark?  Would you survive to find out?  Probably not.

The good news is we don’t have to count on the Law of Large Numbers.  And, while it’s nice to say that we can count on ourselves, it’s even better to know that we can count on our family, friends, associates, co-workers, teammates, competitors (yes, indeed), and countless others to help us achieve our victories.

You don’t have family, friends, associates, co-workers, teammates, competitors or countless others who can help you?

Then, your cage match is going to be all about how you become one or more of these things for someone else.  Look around for who you can help.  Who can you befriend?  Who can you support?  Who can you encourage?

In life, the largest number in the Law of Large Numbers is you and your tireless and relentless effort to make a difference for someone else.

Each of us has our own cage match to fight, often with ourselves.  Wouldn’t it be great to see what you can do to help someone else win theirs?

Trust me.  You’ll find your own path to victory along the way.

P.S.  There’s not much anyone can do to help you win at roulette, but I always recommend 32 red.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash, Joshua Clay

 

Anyone But Me

  • unsplash-benjamin-child“Who wants to start?”
  • “Any volunteers?”
  • “We need to think outside the box.  Do you have any ideas we can pursue?”
  • “Who’s gonna drive innovation for our company?”
  • “Did you see what they just did?  Who’s heading up our response?”
  • “I’m sure glad he’s running with that project.  I wouldn’t get anywhere near that thing!”
  • “Who’s next?”
  • “You’re kidding me!  She’s leading our brainstorming session?”
  • “I sure hope they figure this thing out.  We need answers and we need them fast!”
  • “I can’t believe we’re doing this.  Who came up with this idea?”
  • “They’re idiots to think this will matter.”

It’s easy to hide.  Easy to complain.  Easy to snipe from a distance.

It’s easiest to let someone else.

The hard thing is stepping up.

Volunteering.

Risking failure.

Taking charge.

Risking embarrassment.

Choosing to lead.

Risking success.

Turning “anyone but me” into “why not me” is the first step…and the hardest one of all.

 

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–Benjamin Child