Leaders solve problems. But to become more effective, you likely need to overcome the biggest problem-solving problem in leadership.
Sometimes the reason you can’t solve a problem is because you were never supposed to solve it. Wise leaders stare down each challenge that comes across their plate, and before expending an ounce of energy on trying to solve it, they first ask these clarifying questions…
1. Is this a problem to be solved, or a tension to be managed?
Before you decide to tackle whatever crisis has landed on your desk, first discern if indeed you really can solve it. It could be a tension that must be managed.
Andy Stanley has pointed out that not every difficult situation that lands on your desk is a problem you will ever be able to solve. You can’t solve the problem of new competitors coming into the market. You can’t solve the problem of disruptions caused by bad weather.
You can minimize these by good preparation, but you can’t solve them. These are tensions you must learn to manage.
2. Is this my problem?
Once you’ve determined that the latest crisis really is a problem, and not a tension to be managed, next figure out if it really is your problem.
In his book, The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, one time University of Southern California president Steven Sample addressed how he responds when a problem is presented to him.
“The first thing I do,” Sample wrote, “is to figure out if this is really my problem.”
Just because someone dumped an issue on your desk doesn’t necessarily mean it has become yours to deal with. Maybe this really belongs upstairs, downstairs, or down the hall.
Don’t abdicate your own responsibilities, but make sure you are not tackling a problem that really doesn’t belong to you.
3. Just how big is this problem?
As I outlined in an earlier post, one of the first jobs of leadership is to determine the appropriate scale of the problem that has just landed. “Is this a big deal? A little deal? Somewhere in between?”
Always figure out just what the scale and scope of this problem really is. And put the appropriate energy and resources towards it.
Here’s the point. In today’s tumultuous season, new and sometimes profound problems will land on your plate. The cumulative effect can be overwhelming.
So before you ask, “How do I solve this problem?” be sure your first question is, “Should I be solving this problem?”