How Do YOU Look at Problem Solving?

People in management and leadership deal with problems all day long. Plans and projects get started, procedures are written and taught, but things go wrong. You’ve got a problem.

Challenges present themselves in so many forms. People problems, supply problems, customer problems, and so on and so on.

37226366 - problem solution flow chart with basic questions, business concept

A lot of physical and emotional energy gets spent solving problems. For managers, problem solving is a big part of your job description. It can be argued that management is nothing but problem solving. Yet there is one thing that I find curious about most problems.

Usually, the problem is not the problem. The problem is the way we are thinking about the problem.

Problem-Solving Mindset

Our mindset drives so much of our approach to problem-solving. Honestly, we are biased by our prior experience and beliefs. Here are a few examples:

  • If the problem involves money, does our view about money trip us? (see How Much Is Enough)
  • If the problem includes certain people, do we have an attitude about that person or persons?
  • If the problem is about a client, do we have a particular view of that client based on prior dealings?

In what ways do you hinder your problem solving with your own biases? That’s a tough question. Seeking open, objective opinions about problems can be refreshing.

Another Angle

Victor Emil Frankl (1905 – 1997), Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, devoted his life to studying, understanding and promoting “meaning.” His famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells the story of how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in the experience, which gave him the will to live through it.

He went on to later establish a new school of existential therapy called logotherapy, based in the premise that man’s underlying motivator in life is a “will to meaning,” even in the most difficult of circumstances.

In some of Frankl’s work he describes our viewpoint as being so critical to understanding the things around us. Here’s a diagram to explain this thinking.

In this drawing, the cylinder is the “thing”, the problem or the issue. From one view, the issue looks square (see left side). Yet from another view, the issue looks round (see bottom).

Either of these outside views is not wrong. But they are not complete

The Real Question

The next time a problem presents itself, ask yourself whether the problem is really the problem. Instead ask “is my way of looking at life the real problem here”?

24978696 - we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them - a quote from albert einstein - white chalk text on a vintage slate blackboard

Question: How did you look at your last big problem? Was the outcome what you expected?

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Leadership Lessons Learned in the Trenches

team leadership

In my consulting days, I used to manage teams of people who were contractors, assembled for specific projects, then released once the project was over. These talented people were “gig workers” before that was a thing.

The projects were often high intensity with very little cushion on the deadlines. As manager of these teams, I saw a lot of examples of hard work and true grit under pressure. The work required me to be a nimble manager with the ability to think on my feet.

The experiences in the field often served to remind me of business leadership principles I learned a long time ago, but have to revisit frequently if I choose to keep them fresh and effective.

Guiding Principles

Throughout my project assignments, my ‘master list’ of guiding principles was tested on several occasions. I wanted to share with you my thoughts and remind other leaders about the importance of staying centered on these valuable principles. Here they are.

If you claim to be a servant leader, have empathy and sympathy

On one assignment I ran into a team of folks who were new to me, but who had worked together for years before I arrived. They had just been informed that their workplace was undergoing a somewhat hostile takeover; hostile from the circumstances that caused the life-changing events.

Former management had been caught doing very wrong things. My team was to serve as interim managers to ‘right the ship’ so to speak.

I needed the full cooperation and dedication from the staff left behind. I was immediately reminded of the need to empathize by placing myself mentally and emotionally in their shoes.

I needed to sympathize with the things I was hearing. The old phrase came to mind, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Make the tough calls

I had to quickly start assessing the situation around me, digest facts and data, then make some quick decisions. I couldn’t wait on more data. That was not an option.

Knowing what I needed to know was important, but more critical was the willingness to take the intelligence/information I was being given and then make a decision.

business leader

Difficult people need to be corralled and managed

The impact of a ‘difficult’ personality in the workplace can have tremendous ripple effects.

On this project, the client stationed a senior manager with whom I was tasked to work. He proved to be a very difficult personality.

Fortunately, I was able to get a read on him early on in the project, identify the issues, and make plans for managing across the work team to minimize the influence of the more negative things that he occasionally dumped.

On one particularly challenging day, this individual had spewed a lot of venom across the office; foul language, abusive comments. When he went home, I gathered my troops for a sit-down meeting. I told them simply that “I, as their team leader, wanted to apologize to them on his behalf. The things said and done that day were not appropriate among professionals. I told them I hoped they could see that for what it was and not be deterred in their dedication to the mission by having endured this day.”

Rely on your team

Make team projects a true team event by admitting your own shortcomings and use the skills and abilities the team can bring. Do not ever act so big and proud that you have to know it all. People don’t like ‘that guy’.

Accountable

Inspire people by identifying their strong suits early, and then create applicable opportunities where the use of those individual skills can shine.

Also, share among the team who is doing what and how important the outcome can be. Spread the wealth evenly. Consider this as “know your people”. People respond very well when they know their self-worth is being used appropriately for key contributions to the effort.

Have a little fun

Every day does not have to be all starched and polished. Let your own hair down a little and find opportunities for a little innocent fun. Let the people’s personalities shine too.

By creating an environment for a little friendly banter among the crew, you can keep spirits light and fresh. But watch out for off color jokes and comments or anything that starts to sound cutting or personal. Keep it light. Help make people want to come back to work.

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Maintain your own personal integrity

There are many ways to do this, but chief among them is making and keeping promises. Communicating clearly, openly, and fairly whenever possible.

Of course managers sometimes have to hold things close to the vest. But as soon as you can share with your team, do so.

CONCLUSION

Leaders must be clear on a set of guiding principles that fit their style and belief system. I hope my list helps you. Please comment below on these topics and share others you have used.

Leaders 180 Off the Mark

It’s hard to believe you can run into a successful executive who is 180 off the mark on a certain topic.

I once had a client company who was struggling with the aftermath of undergoing a rapid campaign of acquisitions. Eighteen months into post-merger activities they were hemorrhaging money.

My job was to reassess certain alignment issues and evaluate immediate changes to stop the bleeding.

As a result of a SWAT Team-like blitz through the company, I was sensing a disconnect with one of the key executives. He was their CIO. He and I just couldn’t seem to get on the same page.

Now I’ve been told I’m a pretty good business communicator, but this guy had me doubting myself. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to better communicate with him.

The AH-HA Moment

Then one day the AH-HA moment happened. We were in a meeting where the issues revolved around strategic planning and decisions about tactical ways to execute those plans.

When I presented the blueprint I had crafted, the CIO went ballistic on me. He told me I was full of something organic. Then he proceeded to rip my plan. His chief complaint was that I had it all backward.

He took my information and began going point by point telling me my details were all misclassified. In his mind, my strategy was the tactics and tactics were the strategies. He threatened my termination if I wouldn’t change the structure.

Conflict at work
Photo courtesy of 123rf.com

This may sound pretty elementary, but if you think about it, missing this basic alignment does make a plan look way off base. Plus it prohibits any form of constructive communication to solve business problems Sadly, he was blatantly wrong.

I attempted to politely disagree, but he became more irate. It was clear his understanding of strategy and tactics was 180 different from all my training (including 12 years of military training where strategy and tactics can create actual life and death circumstances.)

I was shocked by his buffoonery.

Yes, I left the assignment not long after this confrontation. I had decided this kind of management was part of their difficulty.

The So-What

I use this example to make one key point. As leaders we must get straight on principles, terms, and vocabulary we choose to lead our teams. If we want to rely upon basic business principles, we must be clear on the meaning and the actual significance of things.

To NOT achieve this kind of clarity sets us up for extreme confusion of others and total credibility loss when others know better.

We All Make Mistakes

When a mistake is uncovered, we need to be open enough to admit it. Digging in and demanding that others around us change their view of the topic only serves to prove what a goof you might be.

“‘Tis better to be quiet and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” ~Mark Twain

Great leadership requires effective communication. Your ability to speak with a commanding voice and unshakable certainty is not the skill required. Rather, you need clarity in your message; something that rings true when talking about basic business principles and standards.

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Feel Like an Entrepreneur?

Two business owners were talking. One was having a pretty good run with his new, and growing business. The other had suffered a series of bad turns and hard luck.

Entrepreneurship

The one with the better business asked, “So now do you feel like an entrepreneur?” 

The other answered “Heck no. I feel like a pile of manure.”

Running your own business is not for the faint of heart 

It takes a whole lot more than a smart new idea to make a business tick. If yours is a wild and disruptive idea (think Uber and AirBnB) you may truly have some potential, but you will quickly find that the details of finding money to make money and managing everything can really be a bigger challenge than you ever expected.

It takes much more than an idea to become an entrepreneur. Click To Tweet

Several times a year I speak to audiences on college campuses. After my talks, I get the usual line of attendees who want to ask questions, make comments, and otherwise share things. 

It never fails that I get a student or two who is convinced they will conquer the business world as we know it with their new idea. I ask them to explain. So far I have never heard anything earth shattering. 

I am not  sure if that is because we don’t teach enough creative thinking or whether we are truly failing to impart the full truth about what it takes to make a business go.

Sidebar: As I write this, it occurs to me that many of the more famous entrepreneurs of our modern era never went to college or never finished (think Gates and Zuckerberg). I digress.

Getting the Entrepreneurial Bug

There are those among us who are natural entrepreneurs. Others get the idea after spending too many years working for others. For me I caught the bug early in life. I watched my single Mom quite a stable, secure job to live her dream. 

Mom was a gifted interior designer. She did that work for other companies before setting out on her own. Slowly but steadily she built a well-respected and thriving business. Solopreneur she was long before that was  a thing. 

I wrote about the 10 things she taught me. See that article here.

I’ve had the opportunity to start three businesses and three non-profits. Each one was a labor of love. Believe me when I say I didn’t do it alone.

Somewhere along the way mentors had taught me one key principle. Ideas are great, but before you commit big resources (and energy) test it with several faithful advisors.

If you can get them interested, then you might have something. Otherwise, it’s just a dream.

To All the Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Here are my simple rules of entrepreneurship.

  1. DO – live your dreams, but be smart about it. Test your ideas with a few trusted advisers. Be open to their honest feedback. Tweak your plan if it looks like you must.
  2. BUT – don’t get totally discouraged. Dogged determination does create some very exciting possibilities. (I still don’t understand how Jeff Bezos survived the first 10 years of Amazon).
  3. EGO – Your ego is good when used the right way. Watch who you alienate as you grow your idea. You will need friends sooner than you think. NEVER take yourself too seriously.
  4. FUN – have fun doing what you decide to do.

Leaders: Do You Have a YES Face?

Yes face picture

There is a story about Thomas Jefferson when he was President. He and a group of close advisors rode horseback across the countryside. They came upon a river swollen by recent rains.

On the bank was a man without a horse. He gazed at the river not knowing how he would get across. One by one the men on horseback started across. Each making it to the other side.

Finally, it was Jefferson’s turn. The man asked if he could jump on with Jefferson and ride across. Jefferson obliged.

Once everyone was across, one of the other riders asked the man why he chose Jefferson; asking if he knew Jefferson was the President.

The man said, “President? I didn’t know that. I just knew his face said YES while all you other guys’ face said NO.”

If you’re in a leadership position, do you have a YES face?

Think About It

Think about the times a senior executive presented a new plan or a new vision but had a stern, perhaps sour face; a NO face. How hard was it to believe in the plan?

Look at the picture below. Which people could you relate to the best?

Photo courtesy Unsplash.com

Executive leaders need to think about their face when they make announcements, hold discussions, and conduct meetings. The look you have says much more than the words you speak.

Tell Your Face

I had a coaching client who was sharing with me the great excitement of the new job he just got promoted into. He was gushing about the team and the opportunity. He was assuring me he had great admiration for the people and the purpose. Yet he shared this whole story with a stoic face; no grin, no emotion, just power words about the positive aspects of the opportunity.

When he was finished talking, I asked if he really believed all the things he just told me. He assured me YES!

I said, “Then tell your face.” He was stunned. He wasn’t sure what I meant. I explained.

His content was positive, but his context was wrong. The look on his face lied about the message.

Think about this the next time you need to talk with your team or your crew. Get your face in line with the message.

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If this makes sense, leave a comment. Tell us about a time when you had to get your “Yes face” on.

Life’s Three Secrets

Clients often ask me about ways to increase their confidence. Apparently plenty of qualified executives suffer from a bit of inferiority. They are fearful of being “found out” as not being fully capable of handling the job they have.

coaching call

As we explore ways to build confidence, we often come across limiting beliefs that stem from old fears or future fears. It’s these fears that erode confidence and cause self-doubt.

Limiting beliefs make you think you are “less than” the expected standard. The phrases include statements like “you’re not smart enough, fast enough, or pretty enough.”

Usually, we have these messages implanted in us at childhood and school years. Sadly, they can come from your family or friends. Or they come from well-meaning authority figures like teachers.

To overcome these beliefs, we need to explore three secrets.

I am going to share three secrets

We’ve all heard various ideas about managing our lives. When you break it all down, there’s really not much surprise to life. Three simple secrets hold the keys to just about eveything you can experience.

Signs about yesterday, today and tomorrow

Yesterday

Yesterday is long gone. There are only three things we can do about yesterday.

First, learn from the lessons whether good or bad. Take an HONEST assessment of what happened and try to understand why. But do not let this become a new vocation.

Don’t beat yourself up over something that is past.

Next, let it go. There is nothing you can do about yesterday’s outcome. Good choices, bad choices, mean people, bad people, whatever. IT’S OVER!

Build a marker for the ways you saw divine intervention guiding and carrying you. These markers can be physical or mental, but keep track of what was significant. Over time, you will see a story start to take shape that can define who and what you might become in the next few years.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow will come. Let it come on its own. There is nothing you can do to change the actual events of the day tomorrow. Oh, you might plan and strive, but ultimately, things will turn out all on their own tomorrow.

“Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.” Don’t add to the worry of tomorrow.

If you spend too much time thinking and reacting about tomorrow, you may miss great opportunity today.

Mark Twain said “My life has been a series of horrible miseries; most of which never happened.”

Don’t burden yourself with fears about tomorrow. They can consume you and waste valuable time. Then, once tomorrow becomes today, you may never come close to the disaster you convinced yourself was about to happen.

TODAY!!!

Today is the only time you can do something about. Live today as if it were your last. I don’t mean live frivolously. I mean make a difference.

Do the things that enrich your family, friends, and neighbors. Today is not about YOU. Today is a gift (that’s why we call it the “present“.). Accept this precious gift and live to the full!

I know about an executive who comes to work every day with one purpose. His mantra is “How can I make this place better than I found it?” In his world, he means his own business, his people and his customers.

And the great news is he really lives and operates just that way. You can too.

Back to confidence

confidence at work

If you are concerned about your confidence level, ask yourself if you’re guilty of violating one of these three little secrets. Get them in proper balance and I assure you your confidence will rise.

You’ll never see a “good” tight rope walker who isn’t confident of his ability to balance. Likewise the best executives have a confidence in their own ability to act properly and assertively when they need to.

You can’t do either one of those acts without confidence.

Making the Most from Working at Home

Work at Home

The gig economy has produced a large population of people working from home. The lure and excitement of being able to shorten the commute from hours and miles down to feet and inches (as in the length of the walk from your kitchen to your home office) often fade fast.

It turns out not everyone is equipped to work at home. I frequently get asked for tips and tricks on how to make the stay-at-home gig work well.

Work at Home

I’ve been working from a home office for almost 20 years. Yes, I frequently get called to client offices or travel on-site to assist with business deals. Yet the bulk of my time is spent right outside my kitchen door, a few feet down the hallway.

Here are my tips for getting the most out of your work-at-home experience.

Make Space

First, make a dedicated space. The more walls and doors the better. You need seclusion from the rest of the activity in the house.

My life now includes 7 grandkids. They are here a lot and not just on weekends.

My wife and I love that part of life, but I still work full time so need the separation when I have work to be done.

The built-in desk just off the breakfast nook won’t work. You need an office area that can give you separation and handle your work tools; likely a computer, telephone, and even video hookups.

Don’t Skimp on Equipment

If your company or client doesn’t provide the right equipment for you to do your work, invest in some of your own. The right desktop or laptop is essential. This includes printers, phones, and whatever video set-up may make sense.

Pay for the bandwidth too. Get a service that provides the best possible data connectivity you can afford in your area. Reliability is also critical here.

If you will be doing work with video conferencing, webinar production or other camera work, check your lighting. Invest in a few moderately priced light sets to help brighten the area where the camera work is happening.

At the end of this article I’ll provide my own list of office equipment I like and the services I use.

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Consider Your Emotions

The psycho-emotional aspects of working at home are not a good fit for everyone. Face it, you’ll be alone. If you live off the chatter at the water-cooler, you won’t get that here.

If you think you need to feed off others at work, then working at home won’t be a happy time for you.

You’ll need to find other ways to get that energy. I set at least three breakfast, lunch or coffee meetings per week if I am not directly handling clients. I use those encounters to fuel my inner beast’s hunger for human interaction.

For me, I keep my trusty rescue pooch, Teddy by my side. He loves it with me at home.

Get on a Schedule

Nothing is harder to do when you work at home than to keep on a schedule. Look at your workload and set a calendar. Stick to it.

Block out appointments for yourself to handle critical pieces of your work, setting your own deadlines if others haven’t already set them for you.

I like what a friend does. Now mind you he’s in his 80’s but he still works full time. He sets 10 boxes on his calendar. Morning and afternoon each day get a separate box. Two boxes per day and five days a week, you get 10 boxes. His primary goal is to fill every box. He intentionally blocks out time to get things done.

If it’s not on your calendar, it will either get neglected or forgotten. Make time and plan time.

This includes being able to make time for your spouse and family needs.

Set Boundaries

I just talked about making a calendar that includes time for spouse and family. However, you need to set some honest expectations with them too. They need to help make you successful by respecting times that you deem as work hours. Unplanned interruptions can throw your calendar off schedule.

Handle Big Rocks First

There’s a fabulous teaching experience that demonstrates the value of handling big rocks first. Here’s a video of the principle.

My Resource List

Here’s a list of some of the tools I have that I love.

  1. My Desktop – I’m still a PC guy. I run an Intel-based desktop, small form factor Lenovo. It’s served me very well. I made one upgrade to install a solid state drive versus the old school hard drives. The SSD cost about $129 for 500GB of storage. That’s not huge by today’s standards, but keep in mind I store my archives in the cloud.
  2. Cloud Storage – With Google Drive. For me, it was tricky to sync it up properly, but now that it is running, it works flawlessly.
  3. Video – Camera is a simple Logitech HD 1080p Webcam 920. It has built-in sound/mic configuration. The quality is great. Set-up was straight forward.
  4. Video Conferencing – I switched to Zoom.us a few years ago. I like their service so much more than all the others. The recording features are super and fit well into my video interviews. Webinar production is easy too with Zoom.
  5. Web HostingSiteground has served me very well for several years now. The service is very cost effective. I find their support 24×7 is superior to all the others I’ve tried.
  6. Blogging Platform – WordPress is my go-to source. I’ll need another dedicated article to tell you about this if you don’t already know something about WP.

I hope this helps you get a better grip on working from home. Call or write with any questions.

Disclaimer: Some of the tools and services mentioned above do involve affiliate relationships with me and my company HeadwayExec, LLC. But I assure you, I don’t promote anything I haven’t used myself.

Being an Authentic Leader Does Not Always Come Naturally

Authentic leadership

One of the highest valued attributes of great leaders is their authenticity. Being authentic does not always come naturally. The good news is, you can develop a more authentic leadership style.

On one hand, being authentic requires having a sense of “true north.”

True North

Ask a room full of people to close their eyes and point North. When everyone opens their eyes, fingers are pointing all over the place. (Try this some time; it’s a great ice breaker).

The message is that “north”, can conjure various meanings depending on one’s perception. Yet, true north is available for specific identification and location using the right equipment. It doesn’t change.

Your leadership should have this same kind certainty about it. You have to decide on your definition of true north, then stick to it.

When issues swirl around you and your team, you should have a reputation for responding to certain things in certain ways. If your people know this about you, then there will be a confidence in the face of uncertainty.

Accepting Feedback

Being truly open to feedback helps build the sense of leadership authenticity. By accepting input from others, you demonstrate a desire to learn and grow.

We all have tendencies to fall into a kind of rut. We find a rhythm to our life and we put things on cruise control. However, if that path takes you away from the authenticity you seek, you need a nudge to get back on the better path.

Here’s what to do. Say to those around you “Here’s my vision and my plan for how I intend to operate. If you see me doing something to the contrary, I invite you to say so.”

The other benefit of soliciting feedback is that you come across as genuinely engaged with the people you count on. Rather than constantly demanding something from them in terms of performance and accomplishment, you give them a chance to “shoot back”.

A healthy exchange of ideas can add great value to your relationships at work and everywhere else. You’ll become a more authentic leader.

One Caution

One word of caution though. Don’t “over-share”. Your people don’t need your burdens, but they will appreciate knowing you too have life outside the office.

As an example, you can casually say something about your daughter’s birthday party coming up, but you don’t need to share all the details and drama that might be going with the event.

Take Inventory

If you aren’t sure how authentic you might be, ask. Get some feedback.

Huddle with a circle of trusted advisors and ask them to provide you with a description of how they grade your authenticity. You might also ask them about ways they could see you improving.

If all of this is still a puzzle to you, I’d be happy to book a short call to help you learn more. Click the link below to schedule a call.

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