Problem solving is what leaders basically are made for. Issues arise every single day and it’s how leaders deal with them, not the severity of the issue, that makes the difference between poor and great leaders. Let’s take a look on the 6 most effective ways leaders solve problems today.
But problem solving shouldn’t be this spontaneous, chaotic event. That’s called being reactive. We want to be more strategic when it comes to problem solving.
Instead of tackling problems individually, we can create a system that has a solution for most problems, even if they’re different in their nature and severity. We call this solving “another one of those”. This saves time and increases effectivity when solving problems.
Let’s dig in.
1. Perceive and don’t tolerate problems
The first step in effectively dealing with problems is to perceive the problems and don’t tolerate unsolved ones. Don’t see problems as painful issues that need to be avoided as long as possible.
See problems as a chance to improve yourself or the entire organization.
Though many people don’t see it this way, a problem is an opportunity. You wouldn’t let opportunities lie around unused, would you?
See, therefore, problems as something you have to uncover, perceive and deal with as soon as possible.
Most people don’t like to do this because it reveals their own weaknesses. Get over it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Acknowledging your weaknesses is not the same thing as surrendering to them.
Solving them and eventually overcoming them is a major strength. It shows character. Leaders overcome their painful weaknesses and become stronger. Hence the term: growing pains.
Why would you want to uncover a problem as soon as possible? Imagine this:
You have a shooting pain in your stomach and you’re worried about what the doctor might say. Perhaps it‘s something serious. But think of this for a moment, when it is in fact something serious, don’t you want to fix it as soon as possible before it gets worse and kills you? Would you rather not hear what the doctor says and die, or would you want to hear it as soon as possible and get the surgery? Deal with problems as a leader the same way.
You should want to uncover problems as soon as possible, instead of avoiding them as long as you can before the relatively small issue becomes too serious.
Don’t sit around with problems because you’re worried you have to face your own weaknesses.
Successful people face their weaknesses head on, because they know problems are opportunities to grow.
To sum up, here’s a table to keep in mind the the do’s and dont’s when you encounter problems.
2. Solve the Root Cause. Don’t jump to a solution to soon.
It’s natural for people to immediately try to solve a problem they encounter.
Before constructing an immediate solution after a nanosecond you perceived and recognized a problem, pause for a minute. First, you have to make sure you are fixing the root cause.
In order to find out what the root cause (or causes) is, you have to perform a good diagnosis. This can take from 15 minutes up to hours. This is crucial because it prevent you from solving the wrong thing which in turn leads to the reoccurrence of the problem.
What questions do you need to ask to find out what the root cause(s) is of the problem? These:
- What is exactly the outcome? What happened?
- Did someone make a mistake, or is our system faulty?
- How should it have worked? What broke and where?
- What can we do so that it will work like it should?
We’ve created a simple process infographic. Take a look and keep these steps in mind when solving problems.
After coming up with answers to all these 4 questions, don’t stop. Leaders crystallize failure as specific as possible by the use of key attributes or a set of key attributes. For example, did Hank did job well? Yes or no? Why not? What can we do to prevent this? Does Hank do this in a pattern? Does he fail in various ways? Is Hank’s failure due to lack of training, or is Hank not the right person for the job?
After you reach the root cause of the problem, suddenly the failures are totally clear and logical.
Crystallizing helps pinpoint the failure and makes it easier to implement an effective solution.
Sometimes it seems like you have the root cause, but when implementing a solution, the problem returns. In this case, you’ve solved a proximate cause.
Which brings us to the next step.
3. Distinguish Proximate Causes from Root Causes
Proximate causes are usually the actions that lead to a problem. It’s also possible that the lack of action leads to a problem as well.
Proximate causes should be further analyzed to find out what the root cause is of a problem.
It’s therefore vital to understand the proximate and root causes of an issue.
For example, if you miss the train you can blame it on that you didn’t check the train schedule.
But that’s a proximate cause.
You didn’t check the schedule because you’re forgetful. Or perhaps you’re chaotic and unorganized.
Whatever the reason, not checking the train schedule is not the root cause. It’s a part of a bigger chain reaction.
To find out if you have a proximate cause or a root cause, keep asking “why?”. In the end, you’ll end up with the root cause.
Take this example:
“There was a problem due to bad programming”
“Because Steve programmed it not very well”
“Because he’s not very well trained”
“The manager did not know he was not fully trained and let him do the job”
Who’s at fault here? Steve or the manager? At first glance, you’d take the proximate cause and blame Steve.
But that’s not what great leaders do. Great leaders keep asking “Why”?
That’s why it’s important to be specific in identifying your problems. Which brings us to:
4. Be specific in Identifying your Problems
Being specific in identifying your problems is necessary because specific problems require specific solutions.
If you’re bad at web design, hire a web designer.
If your employees make mistakes due to lack of training, train them or let them go if they aren’t fit for the job. Once you identify the root causes of a problem, specify the problem and create a specific solution.
5. Remember that you’re looking for the best answer. Not necessarily your answer
Effective leaders understand that they don’t possess all the experience and expertise in the world.
Leaders are like a conductor, they don’t play the instruments themselves but guide an orchestra.
So effective leaders find and listen to different viewpoints and reliable opinions. Sometimes, their answer is not the best answer. And only an effective leader sets aside his ego and admits there are better answers out there than his own.
A common mistake people make is to accept their own best solution when it isn’t good enough.
Don’t make that mistake.
6. Create a solution and keep track
We’ve arrived at the most important part of problem solving. The last step of the 6 most effective ways leaders solve problems today.
You can diagnose and specifically and accurately identify the root cause of a problem. When there is no plan or design to fix it, it was all for nothing.
The final step effective leaders take is to implement a solution. But the final step consists of a few steps:
- Identify exactly where to implement the solution
- Create the solution
- What went wrong?
- What can be done to make it go right this time?
- Did our solution have any effect today? Next week? Next month?
- Do we need to make slight or major alterations to our solution?
- Did our new solution work today? Next week? Next month?
Creating a solution is not the end of it. Effective leaders track the problem and the effects of the solution(s) implemented.
It’s like tasting a soup. Every now and then you taste the soup to see if it tastes good. If not, you add a little bit of salt and pepper and taste again in a few moments.
Effective leaders alter and pulse a solution in the short term. The solution should immediately make a difference, small or large. But if nothing is happening, it probably never will.
So keep the problem updated. When implementing a solution, keep a pulse. Make sure you track the problem and it doesn’t get bigger or stay the same.
Another important aspect of solutions is that they are time bound and measurable.
When creating a solution, create key results simultaneously. For example: “Decrease mistakes by 3% by June 5th”.
If the key result is achieved, you’ve successfully solved the issue.
If you still have a 10% mistake rate, you need to alter your solution and do it again.
Making a measurable and time bound key result is just as important as the entire solution itself. Without accurately measuring, how are you supposed to know your solution had any significant effect?
Here’s a cycle that might help you.
Now I’d like to turn to you
I hope this guide showed you the 6 most effective ways leaders solve problems today.
Now I’d like to turn it over to you:
What’s your favorite way to solve your problems?
Have you created other methods to solve your problems? Or maybe you’ve read another method somewhere online.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now or you can e-mail me.
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For another great post about how effective leaders solve problems today, check out this post from Forbes.