This article is part of my Global Leadership series; Insights from more than a decade of leadership training around the world…
Leaders solve problems. And whatever problem you’re facing, clarifying your thinking is always the first-step to move you towards a solution.
Such clarity of thought became something of a lifeline when I encountered a serious problem in the arrivals area of a small airport in an impoverished country in east Africa.
As I made my way from my plane to the dull, gray cinder block Arrivals area, I knew that the visa I would require would cost $200 US. What I didn’t know, until I approached the stern Immigration officer behind the glass partition, was that they would not accept my credit card. They would only accept U.S. cash. And I was out of cash. No cash, no entry.
And that’s when I paused, exhaled, and leaned into the leadership skill of clarifying my thoughts. Here were the steps in the process…
1. Clearly identify the actual problem, not the emotional response.
In this case, the problem was not that the Immigration officer was unreasonable, nor that I might be late for a meeting. The problem was not my frustration. The problem was actually very clear; I needed $200 cash.
For any problem to be solved, you need to have crystal clarity on exactly what the problem is that lies before you. If you’re fuzzy on the problem, you’ll be fuzzy on the solution.
2. As the leader, you must own the problem in order to accelerate the solution.
I was the person without enough cash. This problem was mine, and mine alone. And recognizing this fact was essential in order for me to move quickly to a solution.
You can, and should, solicit help from teammates and input from advisors. But when it comes to solving leadership problems, the ownership must sit with you.
3. Humility unlocks solutions.
I cleared my mind. I looked around the room. I noticed two people I thought might be businesspeople, or perhaps diplomats. I made my way towards them, explained my plight, and swallowed my pride. “Can I have $200, please?”
He quickly said, “Of course.”
Don’t let pride get in the way of finding a solution. For leaders, problem solving will always involve the humility to acknowledge, “I need help.”
Keep the importance of clear thinking always in your leadership toolbox, because you will need it.
As a leader, you are called upon to solve problems. When you do, there’s no time for fuzzy thinking, or emotional time-wasting.
The solution is always within your grasp. And it begins with clarity of thought.