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The Most Effective Ways Leaders Solve Problems: Steps to Becoming a Better Problem Solver at Work

Maria Petit

When it comes to problem-solving, leaders are some of the best in the business. They have to be – their jobs depend on it! To succeed, leaders need to be able to identify and address issues quickly and efficiently. But problem-solving isn’t just a leadership skill. With the right approach, problem-solving can be taught and learned by anyone with the right attitude.

Whether you’re a leader or not, stay tuned as in this blog post, we will explore the most effective ways leaders solve problems. We’ll discuss different problem-solving techniques and how to apply them in your own life!

The Power of Leaders Who Focus on Solving Problems

Quite a title, eh? However, it’s not ours! We borrowed it from a great article by the Harvard Business Review written by Deborah Ancona and Hal Gregersen. This article features Vivienne Ming, an exemplary American theoretical neuroscientist, and AI expert who was honored as one of the BBC 100 Women in 2017. 

In this article, we see a non-traditional perspective on leadership as Ming doesn’t see herself as a “top manager”, but rather as a “creative problem solver” which ultimately makes us think about a problem-led type of leadership. This article states that these leaders don’t expect people to flock towards them; rather, they want others to get passionate about the problem they have identified and come up with creative solutions.

“I get out there, and I solve problems. And I hope that motivates my colleagues to do the same.” – Vivienne Ming

This a very interesting stance since leaders can be seen as “the whole package”, but what if some leaders are only problem solvers, problem identifiers, problem advocates, and problem enablers? We like this perspective as it allows us to see and admire leaders in another light. 

Then, how do these problem-led leaders solve issues? Keep reading to find out!

Solving Problems Like the Best Leaders: The Top Guideline

Usually, problem-led leaders have one rule: problem-solving must be collaborative. As a problem solver, the leader should involve everyone and anyone who has the knowledge and skills necessary. However, there are other steps problem-led leaders take to problem-solve effectively. Here, we’ll explore problem-solving techniques that problem-led leaders use to tackle issues, read on!

Find the Root of the Issue

The first step problem-led leaders take is to identify the root cause of an issue. This requires them to look beyond what’s visible and study the problem in depth. Leaders who do this can quickly come up with solutions that get to the heart of the problem, as opposed to those who settle for quick fixes or band-aid solutions.

This requires critical thinking, empathy, and collaboration to gain an understanding of the various pieces that make up a problem and how they interact with one another. Once we have identified these intricate details, then – and only then – can we begin to form effective solutions that will stand for long periods.

Frame the Problem Accurately

Problem-led leaders don’t only look at the problem, they also frame it accurately. This means they understand that each problem is unique and requires a different approach. Framing the problem accurately helps problem-led leaders hone in on their problem-solving skills, as they know which problem-solving techniques to use and understand the context of the problem.

Design thinking defines problem framing as defining the scope, context, and perspective of the problem 

Problem framing is a process of problem-solving led by leaders. It has 5 distinct steps – problem discovery, business context, user perspective, business-to-user mapping, and problem framing. 

  • Problem discovery involves surfacing the problem for further analysis.
  • Business context provides relevant context on the problem such as customer needs/goals and associated pain points.
  • User perspective helps to understand users’ needs and goals through research.
  • Business-to-user mapping bridges the gap between what the business can deliver and what the customer expects, 
  • And, finally, problem framing is designing solutions in response to problem discovery. 

These steps are essential for problem framing to effectively turn ideas into visible and actionable products that provide value to end customers.

With all these steps, problem-led leaders guarantee that they are not only looking at the problem from their perspective but from the perspectives of those involved as well. By doing this, problem-led leaders can get a better understanding of different solutions and approaches to solving an issue.

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Data-Based Problem Solving

Since the advent of big data, problem-led leaders have adapted and embraced problem-solving strategies that are data-driven. By leveraging their understanding of data, problem-led leaders can identify problem areas and develop solutions that are based on facts, rather than assumptions (Let’s not confuse assumptions with predictions or projections.) 

This type of problem-solving technique involves gathering data from different sources, identifying patterns, and correlating data to gain valuable insights. For example, coming back to Vivienne Ming, she altered her diabetic son’s medical devices so that all their data could be compiled. With this new system in place, she created a predictive model that notifies her an hour before if any spike or decrease occurs in his son’s blood glucose level. Clever, eh?

Data helps us to accurately improve, tackling the exact issue we need to solve. Below, you have some skills for solving problems using data:

Yet, consider the following advice provided by Darrell Huff, author of “How to Lie with Statistics” when solving problems using data:

  • High-quality, accurate, and up-to-date data is essential to achieve the desired results. If your data lacks any of these factors, it could cause unexpected outcomes.
  • In a constantly shifting landscape or before an unexpected event such as COVID, data can become outdated swiftly.
  • Relying solely on data may not be a dependable way to make decisions such as whether or not to maintain a continued business partnership.
  • Data can be contorted ‒ either to the advantage or detriment of those involved ‒ to create a picture that doesn’t reflect reality.

Intuitive Problem-Solving

However, what happens when the data is not right? That’s when intuitive problem-solving can help leaders to figure out what is going on and the next steps they need to take. Intuition allows a problem-led leader to appreciate problem nuances and find solutions. 

Intuition is not only about “gut” feeling; it is about problem-solving experience, problem familiarity, and problem context. Intuitive problem-solving requires a deep understanding of the problem at hand, problem-solving experience, and problem context. This type of problem-solving is essential when data fails or isn’t available. 

Stay Open-Minded

Once problem-led leaders have taken the above steps, they need to stay open-minded by exploring different approaches and solutions to solving the issue. This means problem-led leaders don’t get stuck in the same thought process but instead seek out new ideas and perspectives. 

By staying open-minded, leaders can access an array of possible solutions and be more adaptive to various situations. With no predetermined notions or expectations of the outcome, leaders can look at every angle involved and arrive at the best possible decision. Consequently, this approach leads to creative problem-solving, increased productivity, and improved leadership abilities.

Transparency is Paramount

Transparency is paramount when solving problems, as it allows everyone involved to come together and access different types of information to make well-informed decisions. Through transparency, leaders create space for a thorough investigation, collaboration, and constructive dialogue. 

This level of transparency results in effective communication and stronger accountability systems, which ultimately lead to better decision-making. To ensure the success of any organization, transparency should be the go-to guiding principle commanded by its leader or leaders.

Stop Pointing Fingers

Not blaming anyone is an important philosophy for all leaders to implement. Taking ownership of a problem is the first step toward resolving it while pointing fingers and trying to blame others will only lead to more problems. 

Leaders should instead focus on gathering resources and motivating their team members to discover solutions. Identifying the cause of the issue and properly utilizing resources is key to successful problem-solving. 

Leaders need to take charge and think proactively about how best to move forward, rather than dwelling on finding someone to blame. 

Communicate the Problem, the Solutions, and the Results

Clear communication of the process should be delivered at every step, from describing the problem to presenting solutions and outlining potential results. 

Leaders must be succinct with their communication so that it is easily understood and prevents the risk of misinterpretation. By tailoring communication styles to fit the needs of their team, leaders can ensure understanding while inspiring confidence and motivation within their team in problem-solving initiatives.

Modify or Apply Solutions According to the Results

Leaders must shape or modify solutions according to the results they experience while problem-solving. A key part of leadership is being able to identify how results shape solutions and apply them in a thoughtful, effective way. 

This requires the ability to weigh the evidence and use it to decide how best to shape or apply original solutions. Doing so empowers leaders to take decisive action and shape their solutions with confidence, leading teams toward success even amidst difficult challenges.

Monitor Solutions and Results

By consistently evaluating their process, leaders can recognize which strategies work and which ones don’t. This analysis allows them to make informed decisions that ultimately resolve any issues they may have. 

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are a great way to measure problem-solving progress and results, as they help leaders identify problem areas and track their solutions. This allows them to determine problem-solving success, and modify their problem-solving strategies accordingly. 

Leaders must remain mindful of the solutions and results, ensuring their continual performance are up to standard. With the help of monitoring, leaders can monitor and develop effective strategies, resulting in better problem-solving practices.

Prepare Yourself for Another Round

Thorough problem-solving should always come prepared with a plan to address issues that may arise again in the future. Leaders must be able to anticipate potential issues soon and develop problem-solving strategies for them. 

It is important to anticipate future issues and construct problem-solving strategies for them. Creating an action plan to confront any forthcoming issues is key to remaining positive and getting through the process in one piece. Staying on top of the situation by continuing to stay prepared and ensure the best possible outcome is essential.

The Four P’s to Problem Solving: The Roadmap

If you don’t know where to start, the four Ps of problem-solving are a great framework for us to start from when approaching any problem: prep, plan, perform, and perfect.

  1. Prep includes gathering all relevant information related to the issue and coming up with possible solutions. 
  2. Planning requires putting all the pieces together from the data gathered in preparation for a feasible pathway forward.
  3. Performing involves executing and monitoring through the implementation.
  4. Perfecting means evaluating the entire process and course correcting if necessary. 

With these four steps in mind, leaders can solve problems quickly and effectively providing maximum results!

Solve Problems Like a Leader: The Final Tips

Therefore, to sharpen problem-solving skills pay attention to the following advice: 

  • Gather as much information as possible before developing a solution.
  • Listen carefully to all stakeholders involved in the problem.
  • Ask questions to better understand the problem context.
  • Consider different perspectives.
  • Stay open-minded and flexible.
  • Be aware of problem nuances and intuition.
  • Develop problem-solving heuristics to consider multiple problem scenarios.
  • Do not make assumptions, but instead ask questions and drive discussions when necessary. 

Final Thoughts

Problem-led leadership is a powerful approach to problem-solving today. It relies heavily on problem-solving skills, data understanding, problem familiarity, problem context, and intuition. Ultimately, problem-led leaders strive to create solutions that address the needs of their stakeholders while keeping in mind their own goals. 

When problem-solving is done correctly, it can enable problem-led leaders to deliver positive business outcomes and maintain their competitive advantage in an ever-changing landscape. Good problem-solving leads to great leadership! We love providing you with tips and hacks to stay at the head of your industry, check our blog post archive for more.

-The Monitask Team

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