Problem Solving: Your Key Strategic Advantage

In today’s society problems move quickly, and there are many choices that need to be made – often quickly. Building a brand, product, or providing a service is not only about the quality and the relationship, but it is also about the value and outcome or experience derived from the user. An important individual and organizational skill is how problems and dilemmas are solved, along with the outcomes achieved.

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Different Types of Problem Solving:
Problem solving is a combined integration of the experiencing, thinking and behaving aspect of our activity. Rather than look at the psychological theory, it might be more helpful to look at the practical approaches to problem solving.

1.) Look at the ways that have worked before. Over time, we may have drifted away from workable practices, and drifted from tried and true ways. When considering a problem, consider ways that have worked before. Adapt the new solution along the same lines.

2.) Consider ways that have not been tried.

3.) What are the alternatives…look for “exceptions” that might provide clues to solving the dilemma differently. “This product works, except________when this occurs.”

4.) What can be removed from the situation? Often times, we only consider solving the problem with the current variables. What would happen if we removed a variable. That variable might be the barrier keeping the solution obscured.

5.) What could be added? Would it create a different outcome? Remember that adding indiscriminately might add to the problem.

These are not exhaustive, but starting points to pull apart the problem into manageable elements. What might seem an exercise in Algebra, it is really not. The adage of “thinking out of the box” really is a limit to true problem solving because it doesn’t specify an approach, only a mindset. Try these techniques on your next organizational problem or interpersonal problem.

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Learning to Follow Before You Lead

There is no limit to the information available on leadership. It is a popular topic, and one that garners a substantial volume of perspectives, advice and suggestions. What is less apparent is the lack of literature on how to be good follower, or even more how learning to become a good leader in some way is predicated on learning to become a good follower. (Credit to: David Carpenter for bringing this to my attention via a Twitter discussion one evening several months ago @dave_carpenter)

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The world of management and leadership embraces the team, the manager, or the leader. It takes for granted that leaders will have good followers, but there has been little discussion or attention on how being a good leader might require you to learn how to follow. What do we mean here?

Characteristics of Following
Learning to follow means that you will have some humility. It also requires that you are able to work well with others, and are willing to use influence, rather than resistance with others. For some, it means developing an openness to others, willingness to accept differences, and to trust others. Where else do we obtain those critical leadership skills than by learning to follow and model after others in leadership positions?

Following means you seek to be mentored. Many reporting relationships in organizations are seen as a requirement, not a privilege. For any number of reasons, “the boss” is something that needs to be endured rather than honored and appreciated. There are circumstances where those in leadership positions are ill suited, and instead of mentoring, they create fear, avoidance, or simply disdain with the followers. Still others in the following role are unfortunate to have bad mentors. Leaders need to remember that in many cases their example is the early learning for the next generation. Poor leaders create poor followers, that develop poor orientations.

Following is a privilege. Those that follow should consider their role as a stewardship, and one that can breath life into their futures. Instead of viewing the leader with disdain or as something to be endured, even the most difficult boss can have something to teach. If you’re fortunate to have good mentors or leaders, then this can provide solid orientations, for the future ahead. Following a leader is not just an obligation required by policy, it is way to add critical meaning to your chosen life work.

To become a good leader, you need to first become a good follower. It’s like learning math: You have to complete algebra before trigonometry. Becoming a leader is something that you gain from embracing a solid following role. There is a learning path, and those that embrace richness from a good leader can surely enable themselves to replicate the solid leadership values and approaches that have been bestowed.

The Pitfalls of Creating Dependence in Your Team

There is a difference between helping and creating dependence…In your team.

Helping implies getting someone to a different level so they can support themselves on their own two feet.

Creating dependence implies not letting others in your team soar on their own.

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Some teams are run by leaders that only know how to create dependence in their teams. What appears to be helping, in the long run is merely control. Having control of a team squelches their best efforts to succeed. It is a recipe to failure, but the secondary gain is with the person creating all the dependency in the team. Creating dependency in others is like telling your team not to perform. Creating dependence in the team, takes the following traits:

1. The team can’t move because the leader requires them not to think. Instead they are given the directives what to do.
2. The leader has reached the limit of their skill. Their insecurity is such a problem that controlling and creating dependence is the only way they can keep from losing control.
3. The leader is so disengaged and their unit is drifting.
4. Creating dependence in their team members feels good to the one in charge, and gives them a false sense of self.
5. Creating dependence hides the leader’s ineptness.

Creating dependence in others we work with looks like helping, but it is only a projection of the leader’s weakness, and lack of capacity. It is a unit killer.

The effects on the team are enormous. Skepticism, under-functioning, and second-guessing becomes common place. If they don’t collude with the co-dependence, then it is seen as non-compliance. The biggest issue is the loss in capacity, initiative and creativity. What could be a healthy and developing business unit, ends up being a mediocre unit.

Creating dependence in others is not helping, and it’s purpose is usually to meet the needs of the person creating the dependence in others.

  • Indicators that there is a culture of dependence in your organization:
  • 1. People are leaving
    2. Attitude or productivity problems
    3. Staff is not following policy
    4. Dishonesty
    5. Entitlement mentality in staff
    6. Gross disconnection with the values and cross company goals
    7. Frustration, lack of vision

    Helping rather than creating dependence implies that the manager is guiding rather than controlling their team. It also implies that everyone is responsible for the results and is accountable at the same time. It is about getting there, and not about one person trying to meet their needs at the expense of others or the organization.

    In what ways do you see dependency creeping into the culture of your organization?

    Do you help and get out of the way, or create a dependency where others see you as the center –

    Giving and Getting – Team Dynamics

    A pervasive dynamic in the workplace and with teams is the concept of “getting or giving”.

    Getting: Is the outcome of what can I get from the organization. What’s in it for me.

    Giving: What talents and abilities do I bring to the organization? What do I give to receive?

    Teams and groups of employees often fail because:
    1. There is really not a team. It is a utilitarian view: What do ‘I’ get if ‘I’ do this, or that…
    2. Everyone on the team is not held accountable using the same rules or expectations.
    3. Oversight, or management is too afraid to confront inconsistencies.

    The Getters tend to participate in teams where the above dynamics are present. They continue to get, but fly under the radar or escape reasonable scrutiny for the results. I have seen this dynamic present since MBA business school. It is a part of the human condition.

    The Givers are the silent producers, rarely complaining, but producing the results. After a while, the Getters rely on the Givers, and the team eventually suffers. It can be a very frustrating experience for the Givers in the organization, but more importantly, it can render the leadership more vulnerable and in a position where they have enabled the Getters – making it harder to address.

    Teams will always have both types of members. The job of the leader or manager is to address the situation more immediately so as to avoid the vulnerabilities it produces in the team. The following steps may prove helpful:

    1. Approach all members with the same expectations. Set appropriate limits when it becomes apparent that some members are under-functioning at the expense of others.

    2. Be honest, avoid unholy alliances with one team member or members over others. Avoiding mis-steps by a deviant member will not make the problem go away. Addressing it honestly upfront, is the best strategy.

    3. If you have policies and expectations, use them. As a leader your job is to get ahead of the problem, not wait until it manifests into something more difficult to solve later on. Team members who are Getters, will not give up their behavior until it is directly addressed. Remember the team has a purpose, and it is not to give an advantage of one member over the organizational objective.

    Can you identify the dynamic of Getting over Giving in your organization?

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    Time Wasting

    This would appear to be a straight forward title, and obvious problem, hardly worthy of a blog post. It would seem that way, but no matter how much I read or see about time management, a subtle problem remains for many an ongoing issue, due to external and internal experiences

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    Key Time Wasters
    External time wasting relates to the situations and experiences we encounter that we did not directly create, but invariably impact us, because they are demanding our time, interrupt or disrupt. There are several reasons for this, but the key items tend to be:
    1. Over-extending ourselves for situations that do not match directly with key objectives.
    2. Not saying “no” (double negative intended) to unimportant things.
    3. Failing to be assertive with others, and therefore letting the unimportant intrude on the important.

    Internal time wasters include:
    1. Not having enough personal discipline to do the things that are best.
    2. Choosing things that are not substantive to devote ourselves.
    3. Spending inordinate amounts of time obsessing over needless details that add no value.
    4. Not having the confidence to initiate our own course. Letting other things dictate this.

    As you can see, the time wasting concept is a deeper issue, and sequential in nature. It is not just a matter of choosing unproductive things in our lives, or being lazy. Many very capable people, who have a capacity and willingness for good action, often fall into traps where they find themselves experiencing lost time. Just because you relax, does not mean that is wasting time. The point is whether the activity is serving a higher purpose, improving capacity, outcomes, or your personal guiding line. You have to decide this, based upon important values, ideals, and goals. Time wasting can be minimized, if we decide to take action.

    Indecisiveness -A Restraining Force on the Organization

    Being or experiencing indecisiveness can both be both a barrier to progress, but also an indicator of bigger problems in a given organization.

    Characteristics of those that are indecisive tend to be:
    1. Poor clarity of what is important or what is valued.

    2. Skill deficits with respect to the position that the person is in.

    3. Simply “not knowing” what course to pursue because of anxiety or a lack of assertiveness, or not having enough experience to know what to do.

    4. A leader knowing what they need to do, but imposing a self-defined barrier because of the thoughts of what really needs to be done, but wishing to avoid those things, or steps in the execution for some secondary gain.

    Although it is easy to confuse procrastination with indecisiveness, the two are really different behaviors, but they can collude to impact an organization. An indecisive leader can become a procrastinator if action continues to be delayed. The difference between the two is really between a situation in the moment (indecisive inaction), and the prolonged behavioral patterns of someone who simply cannot (or will not) do anything (procrastinator) over a long period of time. Procrastinators purposively decide to under-function. An indecisive leader knows they need to do something, but has no courage to take steps toward action.

    Indecisiveness can become a restraining force on the organization. The worse scenario is when a leader as in #4 knows what to do, but holds off deciding a course because of what is to be avoided. This can have longer term detrimental effects on a firm that their very survival is dependent on concise decision making.

    The solution to avoiding indecisiveness can be the following:
    1. Knowing what is important, and operating from clear and concise information and values.

    2. Getting the information needed in an efficient manner – if you don’t know what to do. Sometimes we don’t know, what we don’t know.

    3. Seeking counsel for problems. Developing an actual plan of execution. Then, doing that plan.

    4. Eliminating distractions. Keep the key decision in the front row. Know what, where, when and how. Decrease the level of emotion, and stick to the value of one course over another.

    5. Face the music. Develop a reason for a decision, that is ethical and has meaning. Don’t avoid. Learn to accept certain things that are outside our direct control to change.

    6. Doing nothing can sometimes be a cop out. Sometimes doing something is that you do nothing, but at least you have taken the responsibility to take some step forward.

    7. Taking action, at least some action, is sometimes enough to help you move forward. This can be a preliminary step in the right direction.

    Indecisiveness can be addressed, if honestly acknowledged and not avoided. How has indecisiveness been evident in your personal or organizational life?How well did you work though it, and what needed to be different in your response?

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    Do You Live Your Existence in the Red?

    The financial “bottom line” is often a marker for mere survival, or measuring success in a business. Doing the right kinds of things help a business prosper, and likewise making bad decisions or not investing can lead to a company’s financial position to “be in the red”. In other words, you’re running your company with a deficit. This can translate to both emotional, physical or financial deficits.

    Our lives and the way we run them, can be quite similar. We can either focus on significant things, and build equity, or we can be held hostage to insignificant things and merely exist, or run our lives “in the red.”

    How does one really measure what is significant vs. what is less than significant? These days the importance of “demands” has slowly and intrusively taken on more significant place in people’s lives. Often measuring what is seemingly important is more about survival and distraction than about truly engaging the important.

    Maintaining an awareness of these issues has become a chore – because we’re too busy meeting someone else’s expectations, and create so little time and value for our own. It’s not really about being selfish, but rather having quality of life. The parable of the slow boiling frog has become a common ailment, and seeking quick rescue is the way that others react.

    How many of us question what we do on a daily basis? Does it provide joy? Are we even satisfying ourselves, or are we chasing a never ending set of demands that squelch out the significance from our lives. The following exercise may be important for you to try:

    1.) Name the significant things you have done this week. Why were they important?

    2.) Identify the insignificant things you felt drawn into this week. Did they add or subtract? Do you live your existence in the red, or do you have reserves?

    3.) Did you feel too tired this week? Why? Was it for someone else’s purpose, or did fatigue have real meaning behind it?

    4.) What personal or artificial barriers keep you living your live in “the red”?

    From these questions, you should be able to gain insights into your actions, intentions and expectations. Determine whether it’s time to move your existence out of the red.

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    Perseverance Is Just A Step Away

    In my counseling practice, a daily task is the process of change. Individuals seek out professional counseling and therapy because they perceive that the problems they face are insurmountable. Making change requires perseverance, and this is often difficult to see when change is so often difficult to see.

    Another difficult barrier for many is understanding the change has to be made by them, and not someone doing something to them. It also requires a commitment to do something.

    Perseverance requires one to look at the problem one step at a time. Change is not an instant process. It requires taking the first step, then another, and another. Just taking that step “ahead” is often enough to motivate and encourage further movement for change.

    The concept is simple: We manage adversity by implementing small changes over time, on a consistent basis. There are no shortcuts.

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    Functional Unawareness in Organizations

    An ever present problem in organizations is developing a lack of awareness. The idea of “functional unawareness” relates to the idea that units and individuals can function in a firm without knowing a problem exists.

    What are the reasons for this?

    >;;Work units and individuals don’t understand or have clarity about what they are doing.

    >;;Staff are led poorly, or the environment is just too toxic for true awareness

    >;;A lack of mentoring or coaching is neither available or provided.

    >;;There is a culture of “Flying by the seat of your pants” in the organization that blocks off any serious inquiry organizationally or personally.

    >;;The negative value system and lack of decorum and discipline dulls any sense of what is really going on.

    Developing more awareness requires both an organizational willingness to inquire and get feedback, as well as individuals receiving good coaching. If practiced regularly, there is less possibility that our senses will dull, and the organization will suffer.