Mindful Problem-Solving LeadersArticle by Maynard Brusman, November 8, 2018
Many employees long for leaders who can solve workplace problems—from flawed systems and procedures to inconsistent policies and managers. They want their leaders to see through the trees and attack forest-sized issues, with the discernment and authority to fix them one by one.
While this sounds great on the surface, employees who report to problem-solving leaders cite challenges that dwarf the problems themselves. Organizations typically benefit from resolved difficulties, but unsound methods or mindsets can exacerbate even the most mundane issues.
Troubleshooting leaders often have skeptical views and have a hard time trusting the workplace culture. They equate run-of-the-mill difficulties with threats to themselves and their companies, prompting over-analysis in their quest to find ideal remedies. Their problem-solving attempts can stymie operations and push people beyond their breaking points. Qualified leadership coaches specialize in helping leaders overcome these tendencies and establish healthier approaches to troubleshooting.
Are You an Obsessive Problem Solver?
Problem solvers look at circumstances with a critical eye, never assuming systems work as well as they should. They’re motivated by risk mitigation and view problems in procedures or systems as weaknesses that jeopardize their future.
Setbacks or glitches are acute sources of personal pain, according to Dr. Beatrice Chestnut, author of The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017). Problem solvers persistently look for hazards and make every attempt to minimize, if not eliminate them to improve workplace conditions.
When obsessing, troubleshooting leaders disrupt the normal pace of business and frustrate their people. They:
- Are deep thinkers who tend to perseverate over data, diverting their attention away from people and communication priorities.
- View circumstances with skepticism and need assurances that systems and products are at optimum states, which can drag down those around them.
- Taint their mindset by overstating negative and minimizing positive aspects, which leads to poor decisions.
- Are easily paralyzed by analysis and avoid making decisions, thereby blocking progress.
- Have little trust in processes and procedures, as well as those who adhere to them.
- Wear people down with endless questions as they seek complete resolutions or fixes.
- Tend to challenge authority by questioning their motives in supporting the status quo.
- Can invent negative outcomes to affirm their discomfort with ideas or methods, creating greater challenges.
- Lack flexibility and a willingness to accept new ideas.
At the same time, problem solvers have some positive traits that benefit their organizations. Leaders who focus on troubleshooting:
- Are great lessons-learned resources, full of advice on how to avoid past mistakes.
- Have excellent analytical and problem-spotting skills. They catch errors most people overlook, which reduces waste.
- Are prepared and calm when trouble arises, as they planned for it.
- Are unafraid to discuss the elephant in the room, tackling significant issues no one else wants to mention.
- React honestly, without hedging, grandstanding or bragging.
Ideally, positive traits will outweigh their negative behaviors. Self-awareness can help problem-solving leaders minimize damage to their organizations.
Adamant troubleshooters have a reputation for being great problem solvers and preventing crisis. As leaders, their effects on people are more prominent. Visibly satisfied by troubleshooting, they’re calmly, systematically and highly engaged in challenges, approaching the process with a self-appointed sense of duty and strings of questions, some of which seem irrelevant or exasperating.
To make their case, problem-solving leaders overstate consequences and minimize advantages, weakening their trustworthiness and credibility. Their critical perspective prevents them from making decisions, as their quest for ideal solutions is virtually unattainable.
Data-driven problem solvers value numbers over people. They’re resistant to intuition and gut feelings, searching for solutions that can be validated quantitatively. Progress is delayed when hard data are unavailable, which creates rifts with people whose experience and input should be valued and trusted.
A Complex Mindset
When we work for problem solvers, our survival depends on understanding how they think and feel.
Troubleshooters feel threatened when problems have no readily apparent solutions. They fear their analytical skills—and, by extension, they themselves—are inadequate. A loss of control over circumstances adds hopelessness to the mix.
Many problem solvers deal with their insecurities by fixing things and creating order (everything must be fixed; trouble lurks around every corner.) They rarely recognize their fears or desperate need to feel safe, but they’re prepared and diligent.
Troubleshooting leaders are often the odd one out, taking a minority view. They are empowered by their research, insights, predictions and warnings, and dismiss others’ intuition as inferior to facts. But when data are hard to obtain or seem misleading, they struggle to make decisions. Instead, they will opt for extended analysis, which may uncover other problems.
Problem solvers have trouble taking criticism, which they view as a roadblock to progress, a detriment to morale, and the price to pay for fulfilling their role as protector of the people. It is not their intention to bog things down. Their goals are honorable, though they may pursue them in disruptive ways.
Problem-solving leaders needn’t forsake their analytical skills or interests, but they can certainly use them in more helpful ways:
- Develop good personal relationships with peers and subordinates, thus ensuring greater trust in people, processes, practices and products. Rewarding relationships help dull fears of trouble and build greater confidence in well-managed systems.
- Develop better people skills and recognize how others respond. Leaders can learn to present their ideas more effectively, with everyone’s best interests in mind, and work on accepting feedback and consensus.
- See, admit and face fears. A coach will point out that searching for problems is a sign of anxiety or negative thinking. A leader’s confidence is the best weapon to override fears and build positivity.
- Train your staff to tackle lesser problems, and delegate appropriately. Qualified employees with excellent judgment can lighten your load and any associated anxiety.
With a healthier mindset, free from fear and anxiety, problem-solving leaders can manage problems constructively and unify people, without frustrating or discouraging them.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation
Board Certified Coach (BCC)
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Tags: emotional intelligence, executive coaching, leadership development, mindful leadership, problem-solving leaders