Dr. James Belasco

You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand.

don't run away from problems, solve themWhen something is not turning out like you want it to what should you do? Change what you are doing. Sounds simple enough. Sometimes it seems easier to just keep doing what you have been doing and ignore the issues than to figure out what the real problem is and solve it, but as William Rotsler said, “You won’t find a solution by saying there is no problem.”

I have also seen that you have to understand the problem before you accept a solution, or you risk accepting a solution that’s too easy to solve the actual problem. Equally bad as running away from a problem is to think you have it all figured out only to find out that the solution didn’t solve the real problem but only a symptom of the problem.

Thankfully, there are people who have figured this problem solving process out already and we can learn from them. I have taken the Six Sigma process first started by Motorola in the 1980’s and sprinkled it with ideas espoused by past leaders to form the four step process that I use:

Step One – Identify the real problem by asking the right questions. Your goal in step one is to gain alignment on the real problem by asking defining questions. What are we working on? Why are we working on this particular problem? How is the work currently being done? What are the benefits of making the improvement?

“To solve any problem, here are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask?” – Jim Rohn

Step Two – Find the real cause of the problem through analysis. Your goal in step two is to obtain and sift through as much data and facts about the problem as you can within a limited time frame to bring the root cause to the surface.

“If I had 60 minutes to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes defining it and 5 minutes solving it.” – Albert Einstein

Step Three – Find the real solution to the problem – not just the easy one. Your goal in step three is to brainstorm on as many possible solutions you can until you find the one that is the most promising and practical.

“If you find a good solution and become attached to it, the solution may become your next problem.” – Dr. Robert Anthony

Step Four – Make sure the solution really sticks. Your goal in step four is to make sure the solution lasts. Even though you are solving problems, this is still change and it takes more work to stick with change than it does to implement change. You will have to gain alignment for the solution by selling the benefits, handing off leadership to the team that will be using the solution every day, allowing issues to be raised and ensuring they are quickly addressed.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” – Dr. James Belasco

The Four Obstacles to Change

obstacles - Michael JordanAs a leader you will experience obstacles that may cause you to veer off your vision unless you have plans to move around them or through them.

The obstacles you will face as a leader are not physical impediments, but the responses of some of the people around you whose lives are being changed. If you pay attention you will see the obstacles coming and be able to take action to avoid running into them or being stopped by them.

According to Dr. James Belasco, “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” Large changes, like moving from where your team is now to where your vision will take them, require giving up a lot. Remain calm when people challenge your vision. Recognize that it isn’t personal; it is a natural response to change.

There are four obstacles that emerge in an attempt to stop or slow down change in the people’s response to change. Your particular plan for continued success will differ slightly for each of these four responses but your theme will remain the same: focus on your vision. Automobile industry pioneer Henry Ford had this same idea in mind when he said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

The first response to change is fear of failure. In this response, there will be doubt cast over the possibility that your vision will work. Comments will be made about your vision and your ability to deliver your vision. You can recognize this response by comments such as “This has been tried before and it didn’t work,” or “He has never led a group this large, I am not sure he can do this.”

When this response occurs, don’t spend your time debating when comments are made; instead invest your time achieving your quick wins, one at a time. There is no better way to remove doubt or fear than through the observation of success.

The second response to change is forced failure. In this response, there will be action taken to impede any progress on your vision and derail the train of success you have set in motion. This response can come in the form of intentionally missed or incorrectly completed assignments. You may also see that one or more people will refuse to agree on the next steps, but instead will want to debate the solution endlessly.

Take each person responding in this way aside and discuss their response one-on-one. Acknowledge and validate their fear of the change that is occurring, and reassure them that your vision will create success for everyone, including them. Finish the conversation by reaffirming your commitment to your vision with a promise to not let their actions interfere with the success of the rest of the team. Once your team knows that you are committed to their success, they will commit to your vision.

The third response to change is false friendship. In this response, your attention will be drawn to other activities in an attempt to take the focus away from your vision. Statements that start with “Let me tell you as a friend” or “No one can do this as you can” are frequently meant to divert your efforts to areas away from your vision.

Your time is limited and should be invested in achieving the purpose and vision of your team. If the suggestion or request does not bring you closer to success, return your focus to your vision and proceed. Don’t let flattery cause you to forget your focus.

The fourth and final response to change is false facts. In this response, your intentions will be challenged through statements that misrepresent the truth in order to convince others not to follow your vision. For your vision to be successful, your team must believe in your intentions. Your team will turn to you for an answer to these claims.

Do not argue or spend time trying to prevent these challenges from occurring. Instead admonish the challenger and demonstrate your intentions by recounting the success of the team and moving forward to further success. The proof of your character comes through in the lives of those on whom you have an impact.

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