The High Cost of Low Action

Few things grow as effortlessly as a problem ignored. Yet many times that’s just what less experienced leaders do, they ignore problems. Truth be told, very experienced leaders have been known to make this mistake as well.

 

It’s an easy trap to fall into.They tell themselves “It’s not so bad” and delude themselves with the hope that their circumstances will somehow just get better over time and things will “work themselves out.” They come up with poor excuses for why staying with the status quo is a good option; why playing it safe and not putting themselves at risk of failing or looking foolish is “plausible.”  

 

In reality, things that aren’t working out well now only tend to get worse over time, not better, and issues that remain unaddressed tend to grow larger, not smaller.

 

Some people won’t even admit the problem exists in the first place. Others “decide” the problem isn’t their fault or was caused by someone else thereby relieving themselves of any responsibility to deal with it. 

 

Doing nothing is easier, faster and cheaper….at least until the bill comes due. 

 

And it always comes due.

 

Authentic Leaders and successful people in general deal with problems as quickly as possible. Yes, sometimes they will live with it a bit but that’s only because they need to know a problem in order to solve it. 

 

If you want a greater level of success in your life and a lower amount of stress then deal with the problem the moment you have identified it. By “identify” I mean really identify, the number one reason most people fail at problem solving is that they deal with symptoms of the problem and never actually the root cause. 

 

One of my favorite stories is the one about the CEO of a dog food company who while speaking to his entire sales organization began his presentation by asking, “Who is the best dog food company in the world?” “WE ARE” shouted his charged up sales team. The CEO then asked, “Who makes the best dog food in the world?” “WE DO” his team answered in unison. Next he asked, “What dog food company has the best, most committed sales force in the industry?” With their loudest answer of all his team shouted, “IT’S US!”

 

Finally the CEO asks, “Well, then, why aren’t we selling more dog food?” Upon asking that question a silence fell over the room, it lasted for what seemed like an eternity until one brave salesperson responded with a hushed reply. He simply said, “The dogs don’t like it.”

 

Now, how many companies do you think would have doubled their marketing efforts, maybe replaced their sales force or perhaps even lowered their price, all in the attempt to deal with the “problem” of low sales? 

 

That’s an example of dealing with symptoms of a problem rather than the actual problem. I would however give those companies some credit, they at least tried to deal with the problem. 

 

Problems seldom if ever go away by ignoring them. It almost always costs more in the long run to dismiss problems than it does to deal with them quickly. Low action problem solving is the shortest path to high cost problems.


Authentic Leaders don’t dodge problems, they deal with them….are you ready to Lead Today?

Do You Have a Problem?

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” – Albert Ellis

The title of this post is a fair question…do you have a problem… because sometimes a problem really isn’t a problem.

Determining whether or not you really have a problem is the first step in problem solving. Trying to solve a problem that isn’t really a problem is a huge cause of unnecessary stress. It also prevents us from using our resources to solve real problems which in turn causes more stress.

Before you try to solve a problem you need to ask yourself if it is indeed a problem. Ask yourself if “this” will matter in 5 years, 5 months, or even 5 minutes. What will the consequences be if you do nothing. It is vital that you don’t lie to yourself when answering these questions. Many real problems are allowed to grow simply because someone lied to themselves about the seriousness of the problem. 

It’s poor leadership to try solving problems that don’t exist but ignoring problems that do exist is leadership at it’s worst. 

When determining whether or not you have a real problem consider the words my dad has frequently shared with me: Never make a mountain out of a molehill.

If you’ve decided that you have a real problem then stop fighting it. Just accept it. In Dale Carnegie’s great book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” he says one way to eliminate stress is to accept our problem and the worst outcome that it can produce. He also adds that once you have accepted the worst you should try to improve upon it. 

When you try to improve upon the worst never forget to ask for help. It’s unlikely that you’re the first person to have this problem so ask around. Ask what other people have done in similar situations. Ask what worked and what didn’t. When trying to solve problems there is no requirement that you go it alone so do what successful problem solvers do… ask for help.

Don’t waste your energy complaining about what is. Invest your energy and resources searching for solutions. Complaining about a problem does not solve it, criticizing the source of the problem does not make the problem go away. So focus on solutions and make your efforts count.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The problem may be too big to solve all at once so break it into pieces if that makes it more manageable. Sometimes solving part of a problem makes the overall solution come into view. Few problems were created in a day so don’t feel a need to “fix” a problem all at once. 

Virtually every problem brings with it the opportunity to learn and grow. You have the choice to look at problems as a negative or as an opportunity for self-improvement. 

Be aware, if you choose to look at every problem as a negative you may have a much bigger problem than you think.

 

Don’t Worry About Mistakes and Problems

Mistakes and problems have much in common. One (mistakes) will very often cause the other (problems). No one likes either, we complain about problems and we dislike mistakes, so much so that we often refuse to admit making one. 

The other thing that mistakes and problems have in common is that less successful people seem to dwell on them. They linger much longer than is required to learn from a problem and sometimes they hang onto a mistake (usually someone else’s) as if it were a treasured heirloom. 

Successful people learn from their mistakes. The most successful people learn from the mistakes of others. Successful people see a problem as something to be tackled and overcome. The most successful people see a problem for what it is, an opportunity to come out of a situation better than they went into it.

Some people worry about problems, successful people worry about how to solve them. The most successful people don’t worry….. they know mistakes and problems will happen and they develop plans, in advance, to correct and overcome them.

The most successful people also know this simple fact: you are unlikely to ever fix a mistake you won’t admit was made and you’ll never overcome a problem you refuse to acknowledge exists. 

Dale Carnegie said that when we make a mistake we should admit it “quickly and emphatically.” Denying your mistake is another mistake; it makes it hard for others to help you. When we accept our part in a mistake and acknowledge it then others can be more willing to help us fix it. 

That means that the first step in fixing a mistake is admitting it. Acknowledge it, be specific, be honest and straightforward. Be brief as well, you’re admitting a mistake not making a speech. There is no need to make the mistake bigger than it is as a show of contrition. Accept your responsibility, apologize if an apology is called for and move on.

Problems for the most part are dealt with “automatically.” You see a problem, something doesn’t work right, you either fix it or get it fixed. You run out of something around the house you go and get more.  Most people deal with problems all the time, the little ones we don’t even really call a problem. By the way, if you have a solution it is in fact NOT a real problem.

What are real problems however are the situations that we don’t know how to deal with. Problems may also be something we do know how to deal with but it’s too unpleasant or uncomfortable for us to tackle. So we avoid it. 

There are lots of good problem solving strategies to be found on the web but let me offer you the most important one here.

Do not ignore any problem hoping it with go away on it’s own. Do not hope “no one notices” or “no one finds out.” Somebody will notice and somebody will find out. Big problems were once just little problems that were ignored or hidden. Problems do not normally fix themselves. Problems do not magically disappear and they do not typically grow smaller. 

Delay and procrastination are the fertilizers that little problems need to grow into big ones. Solve the problem the moment you know how to solve the problem, once you have a solution there is no logical reason to delay.

The most successful people don’t fertilize their problems, they eradicate them! How about you?

 

The Problem With Problems

A very long time ago I worked for a company that offered the finest training available anywhere. They still do. It is simply life-changing training that no other training organization has been able to duplicate, despite the fact that many have tried.

I was tasked with penetrating a very large account, one of the largest companies in the world, that we had done virtually no business with. They were all very nice people, happy to grant me time and “answer” any question I asked. The question I asked most frequently was: what type of problems do you face in your role?

The answer was always the same: nothing, not a thing, no problems at all.

With tens of thousands of employees spread around the world I knew that just wasn’t possible. But everyone answered the same. I asked my father, a 40 year employee of this large organization why they wouldn’t share with me.

He told me that they were being open, there just wasn’t any “problems.” There were issues, challenges, and opportunities but no problems, absolutely zero problems.

I changed my tactics and began to ask about challenges and issues. The combination of that new strategy on my part, and a change in leadership near the top of the organization resulted in it becoming the largest account ever for the world renowned training company.

It turns out the management team at the company I was trying to sell to was well-coached to think not in terms of problems but rather challenges and opportunities. Maybe too well coached.

Problems are real, they need to be addressed differently than mere challenges and opportunities. Left unattended problems almost always grow. Left unattended problems can destroy even the best organizations.

Here’s why I’m writing about this now. I wrote a post on problem solving a while back and in the post I recommended “living” with a problem a bit before trying to solve it. There are many benefits to getting to know a problem before rushing to eliminate it. When we “solution jump” we may address a symptom but miss the real underlying cause. Getting to know the problem makes that less likely.

So here’s the problem with my problem solving advice. Sometimes when we live with a problem too long we stop noticing the problem. We get too cozy with it. We see newer, fresher problems and begin to focus on those. Meanwhile, the first problem begins to grow under the surface until it is much harder to solve. Sometimes much much harder.

So here’s an addendum to my advice. Yes, live with a problem a bit before rushing to solve it. But LIVE with it, don’t get comfortable with it. Put a deadline on how long you’re willing to live with it. When the deadline arrives take action. Even if you have no additional insights or information take action based on what you do have. Even if you don’t have the total solution ACT on the information you have. A partial solution is better than no solution. The key is action.

That large organization I referred to had many unsolved problems because mere “challenges” didn’t seem so urgent. When we used that ugly word “problem” many things changed for the better. Working with that company is how I learned that semantics do matter.

Problem solving requires action, never put up with a problem for so long that it convinces you that it’s not really a problem. Don’t mistake a challenge for a problem. The first can help you grow, the second can help you grow or be the death of you. The first one can be your friend, the second most certainly is not.

Now, go deal with that problem you’ve been tolerating way too long!

What’s the Rush?

Haste makes waste.

That truism is never more true than when it comes to problem solving. When you rush to solve a problem you run the risk of actually making the problem worse. You may misidentify the problem and end up “solving” a symptom. It could appear that the problem is gone but it’s seldom gone for long. When it comes back it’s often bigger and it’s often more expensive to solve.

Misidentifying a problem, failing to discover the root cause of an issue, is the single biggest mistake a problem-solver can make. Yet it’s made all the time. I think it’s because too many people aim to instantly fix a problem.

We live in a world where Minute Rice just isn’t fast enough anymore. We want everything now, immediately, if not sooner. We especially want problems solved, preferably before anyone knows there’s a problem.

Sometimes it’s best to slow down and live with a problem for a while.

When we live with a problem for a bit we get to know it, we understand it more. We know it’s origins and it’s likely our solution will be much better. Not only better but permanent.

Slowing down does not mean doing nothing. Study the problem, discuss it, look at it from different angles. Learn from it, above all, learn about it. The best problem-solvers have patience and they know enough to never mistake procrastination for that patience. Never forget, there is a difference between moving a little more slowly and not moving at all.

Do not slow down because you don’t know what to do, slow down so that you will know with certainty what needs to be done.

Some people see more in a walk around the block than others see in a trip around the world. Great problem-solvers, like great leaders, walk slowly through the halls, they listen, watch and learn with every step.

Now a good number of people reading this post will say slowing down is a luxury that they can’t afford. They have to “get it done” ASAP! Time is money! You know how it goes.

But you also know that if you don’t have the time to fix it right the first time you’ll never have the time to do it a second time. A shortage of time is EXACTLY the reason you should slow down.

So save yourself some time, slow down and solve the problem once.

There’s no rush to do it twice.