Sunday, July 8, 2012

Leadership is Solving Problems

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership. Colin Powell

I have always been fascinated with the process of solving problems, and this week I set out to find resources on problem-solving during the learning process. There are two that I found particularly useful.

The first is Mind Tools, specifically the Problem Solving Techniques section. The site features a How Good Are Your Problem Solving Skills? quiz as a place to begin, and having taken the quiz, I have to agree that it is the place to start.

My score on the quiz places me in the class of “a confident problem solver,” which is nice, but of real value to me are the recommendations about how to improve my problem-solving skills. The Mind Tools site allows visitors to Browse by Category and features topics such as Problem-Solving Approaches, Finding the Cause of a Problem, Improving Business Processes, and Diagram-Based Tools.

While on the Mind Tools site I learned about Constructive Controversy, a problem-solving approach introduced by David Johnson and Roger Johnson in 1979. “Using Constructive Controversy tends to produce better solutions, compared with solving problems using consensus, debate, or individual effort. This happens because the Constructive Controversy process forces you to face your assumptions and avoid drawing conclusions too quickly. At the same time, it pushes you to use clear reasoning to defend or argue against a position, and it helps to protect you from logical fallacies and blind spots, because you're forced to explain and defend your rationale.” ( Accessed 0700712).

Mind Tools offers a lot of information for free and even more for people who want to pay to join the Mind Tools club. The website is rather simplistic, and the information provided is likely too superficial to be useful for anyone seeking empirical research and higher-level discussion. However, for me, the lighter tone is a refreshing change from the heavy thinking I do in my work as a graduate student, small business owner, and mother to two evolving little people. Mind Tools may be most useful as a jumping off point for new ways of thinking and problem-solving.

The other site I bookmarked is the Problem Solving Strategies page of the Advising and Counseling Department at Lorain County Community College. The site features a step-by-step problem-solving process that is not particularly novel, but is subtly and importantly different than most models. In Step 2 – Problem Analysis, analysis questions include: “How is this problem affecting me?”, “How is this problem affecting other people?”, “Who else is experiencing this problem?”, and “How do other people deal with this problem?”

This other-orientation appeals to me as a former counselor and as a training consultant. None of us live or work in a vacuum, yet many people feel as though they do. Some organizational cultures reward autonomy and individual achievement above all else, and problem-solving is necessarily non-collaborative. Such ongoing competition for recognition may be useful for promoting hyper-innovation, but it can also narrow perspective and limit fresh thinking. As Einstein noted, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Most of us need input from others and access to other perspectives in order to change our thinking.

By including consideration of other perspectives in the analysis of a problem, the LCCC method of problem-solving reminds me that other people have faced or will face similar problems – whether educational, artistic, organizational, political, etc. – and prompts me to consider and evaluate the steps they took to solve it, which I hope will increase my success at solving the problem at hand.

Thank you for reading my post. I hope you will share your thoughts on these resources and problem-solving in general.

Make a great day,

Sally Bacchetta

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