When you lead an organization, part of your job includes addressing critical problems and communicating new directives to your team. What’s the best way to do that?
Throughout my career, I’ve found four failsafe strategies that prepare me to lead when moments like these arise. I’d like to share them with you in this article.
Strategy #1: Gather Your Thoughts.
If I have to address a company issue, I first schedule a meeting with myself. I take fifteen quiet minutes, write down the issue and desired outcome, and let myself mentally engage so I am completely at ease with the details and potential solutions.
In my pre-meeting, I write down and underline the facts that are observable about the situation. I detail what I know and outline the assumptions I am making.
It’s human nature for us to jump to conclusions. Knowing this, I like to spend time unraveling the story before a meeting so I can be an effective leader.
Once I have briefly outlined the situation, the impact, the observable facts, and my assumptions, I consider the story each team member might be telling themselves.
I simultaneously think about the people on the team and remind myself not to expect them to see the situation the way I do. It’s not often that a group shows up really excited about a problem. It takes a very optimistic person to see a problem as an opportunity; when we do that, the situation almost always turns out better than it was before.
Strategy #2: Don’t Treat Anything Like a Problem.
Treating an issue like an irritating problem you just want to make go away sets the stage for negativity and blame, which is the opposite of what you want.
When preparing to lead a problem-solving discussion, I have three objectives:
- Solve the immediate problem
- Learn what we could have done to achieve a better outcome
- Put that knowledge to work to ensure we don’t make the same mistake
To prepare myself to accomplish those objectives, I typically assume that the team will be defensive and then remind myself to expect this reaction and not get triggered.
I know as we explore the problem, they might be reluctant to be forthright about their roles, discuss their mistakes, or consider what could have been done differently, in a public space. However, if we can’t openly analyze the situation, we will struggle to come up with a solution, we won’t learn anything, and we are likely to repeat the mistake.
Remember, the idea of addressing a critical problem isn’t to find someone to blame; it’s to identify a solution and a lesson we can use to improve. In order to reach this objective, people need to own their part of the problem and communicate openly to the group — something that’s hard to do, even for the best of us.
Strategy #3: Encourage Transparency.
Go into a problem knowing you need to encourage people to open up.
Openly applaud those on the team that are willing to be vulnerable about their role in creating the problem in front of other team members. Make it more than safe; give them rock-star status! Make vulnerability sexy! Make vulnerability the next rock star.
As I said, it’s common to face silence or only murmured responses in a group setting.
Prepare yourself to walk into a room with people you know are likely to be disappointed or reluctant to talk. Their nature might be to protect themselves and cover things up, and it requires efficient emotional preparation to face this situation in a productive way.
Be prepared to encourage transparency and vulnerability by asking for it and then rewarding it publicly. If you shoot the messenger, you just fucked innovation.
Strategy #4: Don’t Solve it Yourself.
With a reluctant team, it’s easy to fall back on the instinct to just solve the problem yourself. But doing that is like giving someone driving directions to any location without first asking them their current location. In your mind, the team is in Los Angeles and you start telling them how to get to San Diego. They’re nodding because they just want the problem to go away and you have a solid track record of saving the day.
The meeting ends and they all jump to action. The next day, they show up to give you an update and the results are not even close to what you expected. Now you’ve lost a day, the problem isn’t solved, and you have no choice but to ask how they got here.
What you learn is that they were not in Los Angeles; they were in San Francisco. You assumed you were giving them directions to get to San Diego from Los Angeles; they assumed you knew they were in San Francisco. Turns out, everyone was lost.
The point of this ridiculous analogy is twofold: to remind you that this has happened to you and to remind you why leaders don’t solve problems for their teams.
To Summarize: Get Everyone on the Same Page.
Instead, you help them self-actualize a roadmap to a shared goal that you are super comfortable with. Leaders help their teams identify solutions by asking questions and challenging assumptions until a plan materializes that everyone is happy with.
When your team leaves the room, you are clear on their next steps and so are they.
The results you hope for are inevitable. Remind yourself to listen, be patient, don’t solve, and engage them in the game. Reward transparency; continue to peel the onion until your team is fully on board and has an aggressive solution.
*adapted from “It’s Never Just Business: It’s about People“
Jason Scott is a father, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist whose purpose is to inspire people to reach for their potential. He is founder and CEO of the project portfolio leadership and change leadership consultancy 120VC, and the author of “It’s Never Just Business: It’s about People“. He has enabled his Fortune 100 clients to successfully execute project portfolio management and enterprise-wide change efforts that have generated breakthrough results and created meaningful jobs.