Monday, March 2, 2015

The Dark Side of Problem Solving

Most leaders do not want to talk about it, and most young leaders get caught in it. But all will admit privately that there is a dark side to problem solving. From my perspective, the best resource on this subject is the following book: Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable, Jossey-Bass, 1998. Right now, it should be required reading for many people in management and leadership positions who are struggling with problem solving.

Lencioni points out that there are five temptations:
- Choosing status over results.
- Choosing popularity over accountability.
- Choosing certainty over clarity.
- Choosing harmony over productive conflict.
- Choosing invulnerability over trust.

I call these the dark sides of problem solving. Over the years, I have witnessed numerous people in leadership positions choose status, popularity, certainty, harmony, and invulnerability when solving problems. Not once have I seen this go well for the person, the proposed solution, or the organization. Choosing these temptations have short and long term implications and none of them are helpful or productive.  

The difficulty for many leaders is that they have to do something that most of them do not want to do, namely have the courage to help their organization face reality and then deal with it. As Ron Heiftz noted in an interview back in June 1999 in Fast Company magazine, “Leaders of the future need to have the stomach for conflict and uncertainty -- among their people and within themselves.” The challenge is that they need to keep people in a “productive discomfort zone” while guiding them through the problem solving process. This requires the leader to unprotect the organization from the difficulties before it and to help the organization determine what is and is not essential to being successful moving forward. While this is not easy, it is clearly a vital part of being a leader.

This week I encourage you to be more mindful of the dark side of problem solving and to make smarter and more effective choices as you move through the work of problem solving. 

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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