We face problems every day, some small, and some big. In fact, we’re all hired to be professional problem solvers. Our hourly rates are based on the level of problems we solve. If you are tasked to fix routine problems, your pay is generally near the minimum wage level. However, the more ambiguous the issue, and the more impact it has on your organization, the more generously you are compensated.
Effective leaders understand the importance of accountability. In other words, the first step to resolving a problem or issue is to take ownership. Those who fail to accept accountability lack the skills necessary to become part of the leadership team. Taking ownership of a problem does create risk, but leaders understand that failing to address the issue results in even more risk for the organization.
Here are strategies used by effective leaders to resolve problems:
#1: Assume ownership.
The effective leader is unconcerned with how the problem was created. The point here is that the problem can escalate and potentially have a negative impact on an organizational goal or objective. This leader is aware that blaming others is counterproductive to finding a solution.
For example, you determine that some of the computer equipment provided to you is outdated and will not allow you to meet the requirements for the project. Instead of blaming the procurement office, the leader takes ownership of the problem. She decides to contact the project sponsor to explain the situation and request the equipment needed to do the work right and on time.
#2: Clearly identify the problem.
Before taking any action, the leader must understand the problem. While workarounds might provide a temporary solution, at some point the root cause must be identified and eliminated. Tackling the symptoms fails to resolve the issue, and it will continue to surface in the future.
For instance, you observe that new help desk personnel are lacking the skills necessary to resolve Level 2 tech support calls. To remedy the immediate issue, you assign Level 3 techs to help, but this is a short-term solution. The long-term solution requires that you meet with the HR team and discuss the specific requirements needed for Level 2 agents.
#3: Implement a monitoring and control policy.
Ronald Reagan had a philosophy when dealing with Soviet Statesman, Mikhail Gorbachev: Trust, but verify. Identifying the problem and implementing a solution are important, but effective leaders must continually follow-up to ensure the actions are working. It’s naïve to give up control, and allow others to take ownership. The leader is responsible from beginning to end.
Managing critical problems is part of being a leader. This individual must be proactive and identify issues before they have a negative impact on the organization. There are some unforeseen problems that surface, and a contingency plan should be in place to tackle those. However, leaders should do whatever possible to mitigate or avoid the effect of identified problems.
Taking ownership of problems makes the work of leaders more challenging. However, effective leaders view problem management as part of the job description, and as not work that is out of the ordinary.