By any definition a Leader is somebody that spends a good proportion of their time leading people. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? At a practical level what does this mean though?
Well, every time you are thinking of new ways we can achieve things, adapting and updating the old, you are in effect bringing about change. When you go on to figure out how to make it viable and to sell it to your peers you have moved from idea generating to leading. The people who buy into this change are your followers; they choose to follow not because it’s passive but because it’s active; a demonstration of trust, enthusiasm and ability.
We teach leadership but not followership, followers (your team) are often taking as much risk and putting in as much effort as you the leader. Their development and satisfaction depends on your ability to make things happen and not just to preach change, (see Peter Bregman’s article on Emotional Courage). As a leader you will have to regularly touch base to ensure your goals and expectations are still aligned with those of your team. In other words, as a leader don’t forget to look over shoulder once in a while, if they stop following you… well, you’re just somebody going for a walk!
As a leader it’s okay to manage too, don’t worry you won’t turn into the boss from hel overnight, some things like progress, access to resources and knowledge sharing need to be managed. Effective management will ideally give you the time, insight and trust from your team you will need to lead through your next chapter of change.
We frequently highlight and illustrate our problem solving skills when applying for jobs, seeking promotion and at performance appraisals. Why we focus on these skills is because as managers we often look for them in others, we look for a mirror image of ourselves.
It is a crucial management skill there can be no denying yet it may be worth reflecting on our ability to solve problems, our approach and if we’re part of the problem rather than the solution. Here are some crucial stages;
1. Identifying the problem
This is widely accepted as an initial stage but we should be asking if the “issue” is a problem and therefore how do we define problems? To diagnose a problem, there must be an agreed and accepted standard of performance, behaviour etc. and any issue that falls below this standard is a problem.
2. Setting criteria
When helping others with workplace issues they’re trying to solve I firstly ask them what their ideal solution will look like. More often than not problem solvers struggle to answer this as they haven’t devised a criteria. Before generating potential solutions think about what characteristics the solution must have e.g cost, time, technology; this will prevent you from choosing the easy option or applying bias to your solution down the line.
3. Problem avoidance
The type of people we should be looking for are the people who take action and make decisions before something becomes an issue. These people make sure equipment is serviced regularly before it breaks down, they ask their staff if they’re okay before they fall behind and they engage customers before they complain.
Real problem solvers anticipate the future, in effect they’re planners and forecasters, real problem solvers appreciate smooth running. The problem with traditional problem solvers is that they thrive in the pressure and “buzz” of a problem, they’re fire fighters and only good in emergencies and if that’s you then maybe you’re part of the problem.
How do you solve problems?