What separates great leaders from disastrous ones? Depending on the offending habit, you’ll find there isn’t just one answer to that question. In most cases, employees will list mistakes like failing to set goals, bullying others, trying to do everything on their own, and resisting change — and even being unkind. But, effective leaders are known to solve problems.
Do they look for a quick fix? Do they pass the buck? Or, do they pretend that they were unaware of the problem in the first place? No — that’s not an effective leader. Instead, they tackle problems head-on and exhibit the following characteristics.
1. Is this my problem?
“The first thing I do,” former USC president Steven Sample told Bill Hybels at the 2004 Global Leadership Summit, “is to figure out if this is really my problem!” It’s a simple question to ask. But, it will definitely help you determine whether you can really solve a problem or not.
Think of it this way. You and your team are hard at work when suddenly the power goes out. The cause? A traffic accident that knocked out a transformer. You might call the electric company and still get some offline work done. However, you personally can’t resolve this issue since it’s completely out of your hands.
2. Asks lots of questions.
“Problems are often rooted in miscommunication,” writes Peter Gasca in a previous Entrepreneur article. “Before you jump all over an issue, ask questions — many of them — and determine if you simply may have misunderstood the problem at hand.”
As an added perk, by “asking the right questions of the right people, and examining a problem objectively, there is a very good chance that the issue you have identified is more a symptom of a much more significant problem,” adds Gasca. “Dig deep and find the root problem first, then begin making a list of actions you can take to resolve it.”
Whatsmore, this strategy can give you a chance to determine the scope of the problem. As a result, this will help you allocate the appropriate time and resources to it.
3. Communicate transparently.
“Problem-solving requires transparent communication where everyone’s concerns and points of view are freely expressed,” explains Glenn Llopis, author of “Leadership in the Age of Personalization.” From his experience, Lupus has witnessed “how difficult it is to get to the root of the matter in a timely manner when people do not speak-up.”
Because “communication is a fundamental necessity,” it’s vital that those involved feel comfortable expressing themselves. “Effective communication towards problem-solving happens because of a leader’s ability to facilitate an open dialogue between people who trust her intentions and feel that they are in a safe environment to share why they believe the problem happened as well as specific solutions,” states Llopis.
“Once all voices have been heard and all points of view accounted for, the leader (with his/her team) can collectively map-out a path toward a viable and sustainable solution,” he adds. “As fundamental as communication may sound, don’t ever assume that people are comfortable sharing what they really think.” To counter this, trust your instincts and challenge your team to develop innovative and effective solutions.
Additionally, make sure that you break down silos. And, that you are always open-minded to the feedback and suggestions you receive.
4. Don’t point fingers.
“When we assign blame we are pointing the finger to who or what is responsible for a fault or for a wrong doing. We are trying to make others accountable. Blaming does not solve a problem it usually only makes people defensive.” — Catherine Pulsifer
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Bad leaders focus on blaming others. Instead, they should lead by example and own their mistakes. But, what if you aren’t responsible for the mishap? Well, use this a teachable moment. What did they learn? And, what are the solutions to fix the problem?
In short, take accountability for your actions. Encourage this trait among your team. And, as opposed to playing the blame game, work on solutions.
5. Focus on the big picture.
Here’s a reality check for you. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have the time, energy, and possibly resources to solve everything. The answer? Stop obsessing over the small things.
That doesn’t mean you should sweep these minor inconveniences under the rug. After all, they could grow into something much larger down the road — like a gnarly, unmanageable dust bunny. Instead, take a moment to think about how the situation is going to affect you and your business in the long-term.
Think of this way, you notice that there’s a tiny leak in your roof. Right now, it’s not that big of a deal. But, if left unattended, it could do serious damage to your building, equipment, and even the health of you and your team. Because of this, it should be addressed sooner than later.
As a general rule of thumb, use the 80/20 rule when solving problems. In this case, you would resolve the 20% of the issues leading to 80% of your problems. Don’t get too hung up on the exact figures here. The idea is to put out the fires that are causing the most destruction.
6. Rest, sleep, and leverage data.
“Throughout life, there are times when you must take immediate action,” writes Deanna Ritchie, Editor-in-Chief at Calendar. “For example, your child picked up a small item, which presents an obvious choking hazard, and it’s heading right towards their mouth. Or, your business just experienced a cyberattack, and all of the sensitive data you have stored is in jeopardy.”
“During times like these, you don’t have time to think,” adds Deanna. “You need to act.”
“However, with most of the decisions you must make, you usually have some time to mull things over a bit,” Deanna says. “And — thinking — is often in your best interest.” The reason? Because you’re well-rested, you have a clear head to make the best decision possible.
Furthermore, this gives you time to gather and analyze data. For instance, you could turn to analytics to help you solve your team’s time management problems or pinpoint inefficiencies in business processes. Armed with this information, you can make more informed decisions that are backed by facts.
7. Be preemptive.
“The wise warrior avoids the battle.” — Sun Tzu
I love that quote. It’s a simple way to describe the importance of being preemptive. But, what exactly does that have to do with solving problems?
I’ve already alluded to this, but it’s all about fixing something before it breaks. For instance, you could purchase all new computers for your team every couple of years before they breakdown.
I know. That seems like a lot of work. But, if you’re constantly exploring, keeping up with the latest trends, and paying attention to early warning signs, then you’ve can succeed in making preemptive changes.
8. Find the right talent and let them grow.
“Leadership becomes an intermittent activity as people with enthusiasm and expertise step up as needed, and readily step aside when, based on the needs of the project, another team member’s strengths are more central,” writes Deborah Ancona and Hal Gregersen in HBR. “Rather than being pure generalists, leaders pursue their own deep expertise, while gaining enough familiarity with other knowledge realms to make the necessary connections.”
“No one assumes that the life of a team, or even an organization, will be prolonged for its own sake,” state Ancona and Gregersen. “They expect to be involved in a series of initiatives with contributors fluidly assembling and disassembling.”
As such, knowing how to assemble the right team is a key leadership talent. “To tackle a problem, they need to find the right talent and to convince others that their project offers the chance to be part of a breakthrough,” they explain.
With your team in place, you also need to empower them. The easiest way? Grating them autonomy to solve problems how they want. If it backfires, don’t be hard on them. As mentioned above, let them learn from the experience and figure out what went wrong.