PERHAPS the make-or-break trait of a problem-solving leader is not his intellect or skills, but the ability to keep his cool.
Franklin Gomez, a top finance executive, shared a valuable principle from one of his former bosses. His boss once told him, “You can tell me anything because I have a high capacity for bad news.”
To be honest, when my direct report would come to my office or give me a phone call, and started with “Sir Nelson, we have a problem…”, I would start feeling queasy. Oh, no! What is it this time?
So much for my uneventful day at the office. I hope it’s not a boiler has exploded or something…
Fortunately, my childhood idol was Mr. Spock. (You know, that unfeeling guy with the pointy ears in Star Trek?) As I allow my direct report to tell me the problem, my emotions somehow disengage and my logical brain takes over. I ask questions to understand the situation better, explore solutions with him, offer my views, then send him off to fix the problem.
But were there times when my blood boiled? You bet. I noticed that when I flared up, that was because I had high expectations which turned out to be the opposite. For example, I hired someone who looked good on his resume but performed sub-par. Or I instituted a daily 9 a.m. huddle between two departments, only to learn a month later that it has been abandoned.
In such cases, I have learned to manage my expectations. Take note, I did not say lower your expectations, because I believe it will lead to tolerating mediocrity. Rather, I give my expectations some elbow room to be less than what I desired. That way, the disappointment won’t sting… much.
It helps to sleep well the previous night. Heaven help us when we go to the office ragged, harassed, depressed… and a crisis blows up. So unless your body can take it, go easy on the partying. And do you really need to burn the midnight oil?
There is also another feature of the problem-solving leader. It is to be the buffer between his people and the higher-ups. Let’s say the leader has a staff of five people, then one of them made an error which caused much consternation among the executives. But the leader absorbs the flak instead of taking the easy way out of passing the blame to the staff.
If you are such a leader, you will earn the loyalty and respect of your team. Hopefully, the staff members will say, “Our boss has protected us. Let’s do a better job next time so this won’t happen again.”
If you want to be an effective problem-solver, develop a high capacity for bad news.
Maybe better: an immense appetite for problems.
Note: This article is excerpted from my signature module Creating a Problem-Solving Culture, which seeks to empower both leaders and followers tap their reservoir of creativity and wisdom. For queries, please feel free to message me.
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