The First Step in Solving Your Biggest Problems

 

This is a guest post by Mark Miller. Mark is the best-selling author of six books, an in-demand speaker, and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-Fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture, outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.

 

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -Lao Tzu

 

Take the First Step

I’m guessing much of your life and leadership is devoted to problem-solving.

If you aren’t trying to fix the problems you currently face, you are probably attempting to anticipate, and proactively respond to, problems on the horizon. Maybe the problem you are trying to address is how to continue to fuel your current success – a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. Problem-solving is a part of a leader’s ever-present reality.

I’ve been searching for years for ways to make my investment in this critical activity more fruitful. Today I’ll share some practices that have helped make our team’s problem-solving efforts more effective.

Let’s begin our deep dive on the topic with a mistake I’ve personally witnessed thousands of times. Before I share it, brace yourself for a blinding flash of the obvious! Are you ready?

 

“Problem solving is a part of a leader’s ever-present reality.” -Mark Miller

 

Don’t solve for symptoms.

New Leaders – Decide, Empower and Take Action

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

New Leader Challenges—A Review

Since this is the second post about tips for new leaders, let’s review the challenges. Achieving a new leadership position is both rewarding and challenging. It acknowledges that you are someone who can make a difference, lead others and get things done. On the other hand, it is perhaps another step toward more responsibility and provides greater visibility of your actions and style.

Whether you are new to a department, new to a company or just received a promotion, the challenges are very similar. It is important to establish your style, values and culture effectively and quickly. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So what are some techniques to quickly establish your leadership style and lead effectively?

 

“Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Much of my career has been serving in interim executive positions or as interim CEO for various companies, where I often entered the organization as the “new guy” in charge. Here are the fundamental areas that I have found helpful for your initial focus to be an effective leader:

  • First Impressions
  • Information Gathering and Relationship Building
  • Open Communication
  • Decision, Delegation and Empowerment
  • Action and Accountability

In a previous post, I discussed techniques for gathering good information, building relationships and communicating.

In this post, I will discuss techniques for:

Decision, Delegation and Empowerment

Action and Accountability

From a foundation of reliable information, relationships at all levels and open communication, here are some tips to establish a culture of decisiveness, empowerment, action and accountability.

First Impressions—A Reminder

Whether you are in a new leadership role as executive, department manager, product manager, or team leader, people will watch closely to understand your style. A few of the things people will evaluate include:

  • Are you decisive? How do you make decisions?
  • How do you take action?
  • What do you tolerate?
  • Do you hold people accountable?
  • Can you be influenced? Will you listen?
  • Are you approachable?
  • How do you react to bad news?
  • Do you focus on big picture or detail?
  • Can you be put off, pocket-vetoed?
  • How do you deal with good or poor performance?
  • How do you think about customers; how do you treat them?
  • How do you gather information?
  • What are your values?

As the organization’s employees and customers observe these traits, it is important to remember: They will listen to what you say, but it is what you do that counts the most to establish culture.

So, where do you start? I suggest you initially focus on these characteristics as the most important:

  • Gather reliable information
  • Communicate openly
  • Be decisive
  • Delegate and empower others when possible
  • Encourage action
  • Require accountability
  • Satisfy customers

Here are some tips on how to set the tone for decisiveness, empowerment, action and accountability.

Decisions, Delegation and Empowerment

The job of a leader is to make decisions happen—not necessarily make all the decisions, but to ensure they happen. In fact, it is better for the strength of the organization if the leader does NOT make most of the decisions. When others are involved, empowered and delegated the task of making decisions, everyone learns, people are more engaged and the organization begins to have a culture of deciding instead of just identifying problems to discuss endlessly.

One of the best times to establish a decision culture is when you are a new leader. First, you certainly do not know all the answers, and you need input from others. Second, people will be open to helping you. Here are some tips:

  • Look for Small Things: In various interactions within the organization, be alert for small items that are frustrations, inefficiencies or items holding people back. Ask “Who needs to be involved in changing the item?” Then delegate and empower the two or three people named to make the decision and take action. If the people involved cannot agree, then they can come back for guidance, but if they do agree, then it is done. Many times, there are small decisions that do not need senior management involvement. After all, those involved know more about it anyway. Delegating small decisions will set the tone for the organization, encourage others to decide and help establish an empowerment culture. Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.

 

“Delegating small things creates a decision and empowerment culture.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

  • Take Immediate Action on the Obvious: When you are the new leader, after many discussions you will find that there are some very well-known and recurring issues that have been around a long time. Many times everyone agrees about what needs to be done—so do it! If possible, delegate the responsibility. If delegation is not appropriate, then gather input from many, test your decision with them and decide. These items can be large or small, but deciding quickly will establish your style and send a message to the organization that decisions are encouraged.