How To Solve The Leadership Challenge of Over-Solving Problems

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This article is part of my Global Leadership series;  Insights from more than a decade of leadership training around the world…

In your leadership, have you ever been guilty of over-solving a problem?

If you have, it has meant you have squandered precious resources in a way wholly disproportionate to the size of the problem you were addressing.

Over-solving a problem happens when you invest too much time, too much money and too much organizational energy towards a problem that simply did not warrant that level of attention. When this happens, the organization becomes unfocused, sluggish and drifts off its central mission.

I came across an example of this on a leadership trip to Subic Bay, the Philippines. This area, site of the former U.S. military base, had been chosen as a meeting place for the 1996 meeting of the heads of state from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries.

18 heads of state, including U.S. president Bill Clinton, came to the Philippines for these meetings, meaning that the Philippines needed to ensure accommodations for each country leader. While a level of accommodation befitting their roles was certainly appropriate, the Philippines over-solved the accommodation problem. They constructed 18 mansions, at a cost of up to $2 million US each, $4 million in 2024 dollars. The mansions were occupied for only the few days of the meetings, then were abandoned and fell into disrepair.

This came to my attention when a large group of us were hosted in one of these homes, now refurbished as a meeting place for Christian leaders.

But the history of these homes, almost all of which had been abandoned after the 1996 APEC meetings, was a haunting reminder of what can happen when leaders over-solve a problem.

Why does this happen? Here are three common root causes of over-solving a problem…

1. People pleasing

If you are obsessed with making everyone happy, you are a candidate for over-solving a problem.

2. Not having a broader perspective

If you approach a problem without a grid to inform you as to how big, or how small, a problem really is, you could well find yourself over-solving that problem.

3. Not having clear strategies or priorities

If you can’t clearly identify your top priorities, you can find yourself pouring far too much energy into menial issues. That will often lead to over-solving a problem.

None of this is to suggest you shouldn’t obsess over solving problems. But learn to harness your time, money and energies towards the problems that matter.

And don’t over-solve them.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.

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