Strategize Your Problem Solving To Improve Your Leadership
A while back, I heard a stand-up comedian talk about the three questions you should always ask before you tell your significant other anything:
- Does this need to be said?
- Does this need to be said right now?
- Does this need to be said right now by me?
The joke works because many of us don’t think before we speak and act. (These questions are also great to ask in professional relationships, but that’s for another article.)
A place you can see this lack of forethought in the business world is the rapid-fire manner in which entrepreneurs and business owners solve problems. For those leading a business, it can seem that every day is simply a pinball game in which they bounce from problem to issue to obstacle to annoyance to challenge.
These leaders often relish those challenges and obstacles, though, because problem-solving is deeply ingrained in our psyches.
There’s an unwritten assumption that an effective professional is one who solves problems quickly and efficiently. In fact, you’ve probably seen “problem-solver” on a few resumes (including your own).
We think that the only way to be of value is to solve as many problems as possible, so we develop a knee-jerk reaction when we encounter them; we try to come up with a solution right away.
There’s a problem with that kind of reaction.
There are more problems in your world than there is time to fix them. From big problems, like finding more customers and more capital, to the small problems, like fixing your email server and planning the company holiday party, there are just too many things that we have to take care of. We can’t possibly solve them all!
This means we have to choose where to put our attention because there’s an opportunity cost involved when we focus on one thing instead of another.
No matter how good you think you are, you can’t focus on more than one thing at a time—that’s why it’s called focus. Something is going to get passed over and sometimes it’s a very important something.
So how should you respond when problems pop up? One of the secrets to being successful is to always focus on the most important tasks at hand.
Take a breath before you fix any problem that rears its head and ask yourself these three questions:
- Does this problem need to be fixed?
- Does this problem need to be fixed right now?
- Does this problem need to be fixed right now by me?
Often you will find that you don’t really need to fix the problem. Maybe it will go away with time and it’s not quite the emergency that it first seems to be. Maybe it’s not the most important place to be spending your attention (to paraphrase the aphorism: “doing something well that doesn’t need to be done is a huge waste of time”).
You’ll also realize that often you aren’t the best person to work on what comes up, so it’s a great way to determine if a task can and should be delegated.
Eventually, you will make these questions a subconscious part of your decision-making process. You will find yourself “reacting” less to what happens and intentionally choosing where you focus.
Problems that need solving will never go away, but you will be able to choose where you put your efforts, and that’s when you can leverage your skills and resources to solve bigger and better problems and create bigger and better solutions!