Problem Solving and Other Lessons From the Stuck Ship in the Suez Canal

​It’s not every day that a ginormous boat gets stuck in one of the most vital waterways in the world. How cool it would have been to be a seagull flying overhead, watching all the drama unfolding, from the ship’s initial stuckness to its moment of freedom.

That said, the bird’s eye view doesn’t quite represent the reality for all the organizations and people involved in that event. Clearly, the grounded vessel called for swift action and problem-solving. It was undoubtedly pretty stressful…and a poignant reminder of how quickly challenges can surface in business. How we handle the unexpected can make or break our odds of success.

At Management Action Programs (MAP), we’re adept at not just helping clients address problems big and small but, going forward, learning to manage potential issues with greater tact and ease. Truth is, external and internal challenges are almost impossible to completely prevent. It’s just the nature of business. Even life. But as a leader in your organization, you can take steps to manage it all better. Here are four tips to become more adept at this essential operations and management skill.

Study your successes. After a big win or achievement, it’s super important to examine what went right. In fact, in MAP’s accountability meetings with our clients, we focus first on what went well or right. Pay attention to and doing more of whatever that is can be a shortcut to driving more wins and scaling out more successes.

Develop procedures around lessons learned. Cultures of accountability look at their “failures” or pitfalls by building in dedicated processes around understanding what’s not working or challenges they experienced. They ask objective (albeit sometimes hard) questions around the people and practices associated with the challenge at hand, as well as review any data tied to goals and controls possibly related to the issue. They take corrective action based on the lessons learned and set up new, preventive measures that mitigate future risk, pain or strain.

Build a contingency plan. You know the value of building your business plan. But also having a contingency plan for challenges and crises is equally important. Such a plan anticipates any and all things that could go wrong with what’s vital, relative to your operations, management and people. When need arises, you can pull out this plan and use it as a roadmap to address whatever big issue are at hand.

Nourish creativity and empowerment. With the Suez Canal, the solution may have seemed simple from the outside: remove the sand/rock that caused it to run aground and get tugboats to pull it free. But we all know that, behind the scenes, it wasn’t likely easy to manage, and many sub-issues surfaced. Given this, it’s important to note that creative, empowered cultures, or those in which employers consistently encourage its employees to develop and own solutions even on the smallest of scale, are always more effective when responding to big challenges. So as a leader, build in systems and habits that support the delegation of tasks to team members, build employee empowerment, and support the surfacing of new ideas and solutions both freely and regularly.

Don’t get stuck in a “Suez Canal”! MAP’s accountability system and leadership program provides direction, action and results. Learn more, contacting MAP today.


​ The Disciplined Leader

What do the best leaders have in common? The answer is one word: Discipline. A disciplined leader is one who identifies and focuses on the Vital Few: the 20% of activities that will drive 80% of the results. Learn More

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