Deal With Problems

steps to problem solvingGot problems? You’re not alone! Problems and puzzles affect us all and are simply a part of life. Yet if you’ve ever thought about how people handle them, it’s fascinating to note how well some people tackle what’s tough while others falter at the slightest sign of trouble. Extraordinary leaders often become “so great” because they’re super at managing their problems and, more importantly, they know that the sooner they tackle a problem, the less likely it is to become a bigger one. If you’re fearless in the face of problems, that’s helpful. But it’s equally important to have a proactive strategy for addressing problems swiftly and sanely.

If you’re interested in taking an offensive approach to problem solving, consider following these five steps:

1. Understand the problem. This means defining what it is and then going on an emotion-free, fact-finding journey to get answers to the following questions. Along the way, make sure you’re delving deep to address the root of the problem, not just an exterior issue or symptom. Determine the answers to:

  • Who is involved/affected?
  • What happened/is happening/will happen?
  • When did or will it take place, and what’s the timeline?
  • Where did it happen or is this going on, e.g., department, division, actual place, location, etc.?
  • Why is it going on, looking at contributing factors such as policies, people, culture, or recent changes?
  • How did it come about, noting any specific situation/events/people/circumstances exterior or interior to the company that fueled the problem’s development?

2. Communicate constructively. Set aside a time, place and space to talk, and then be upfront but not too abrupt. Focus on the problem and not the person by avoiding judgmental, assuming, evaluative and biased language and statements that could imply the listeners are inferior in any way. Inform listeners of the process you undertook to get the information you now know and how you have made your conclusions thus far.

3. Determine solution(s). You probably have some ideas on how to fix the problem, but you want your team members and/or direct reports to take ownership of the solution whenever possible. That way, they’re more likely to implement and see it through to success. Actively asking others for solutions will also help win consensus from all and support from any naysayers who commonly resist change or struggle to see the forest through the trees, as well. Get any and all suggestions, trying out what makes the most sense and being open to alternative antidotes. Their creativity might just surprise and reward you!

4. Follow through with updates and an invitation for feedback. As the problem-solving process plays out and whenever any solution is implemented, design and implement a system for providing information and feedback specific to the issue. This should include communications like status and progress reports, measurable data, feedback requests, and summaries of feedback for others to comment on/view. The latter is a good way for you to acknowledge feedback in a meaningful, consistent way.

5. Report on the progress. When you’ve tried a solution, make sure people know how it’s working. Regardless of whether it’s a success, keeping everyone in the “status” loop is a smart communication technique that makes others feels accountable, valued and part of the team. If the solution is a flop, repeat steps 3 and 4 until it’s not. Then when you’re achieving your goal — communicate, reward and celebrate the success! Also, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back. Not only have you personally excelled at tackling this tough leadership issue, but you’ve likely transformed your workforce into practice-perfect problem solvers as well!

What’s the most likely of these steps to be overlooked or poorly executed — why?


​ 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

Order Now

Subscribe TO MAP'S Newsletter

Receive practical advice and tips for today's business leaders.

Contact Us

Toll-Free: 888.834.3040

Corporate Address
5900 Sepulveda Boulevard
Suite 425
Sherman Oaks, CA  91411

Connect With Us