Leaders, problems and prospects
Many factors distinguish great leadership from the suboptimal, but it seems the greatest of these is their handling of problems. While ordinary leaders are so engrossed in current challenges that they allow themselves to be hemmed in by the problems, great leaders do no such thing. While they do not ignore current problems, they also never allow the issues at hand to swallow the dreams and visions they have for their organizations because they know that there will be life after the problem. They are convinced that the current situation is just a passing phase and this moderates their behaviour. So, while they deploy their energies and resources into tackling the current problem, they don’t do that to the detriment of the organizational vision; they keep the original goal in view at all times. They are guided by the dictum that the future is more important than the present.
This is not so for poor leaders. They put everything on hold as they try to sort out the problem. Consequently, productivity declines, morale goes down, revenue generation heads south and the organization is enmeshed in a crisis that may eventually submerge it.
The undoing of suboptimal leaders is that they see a problem as an end in itself. But problems are not a blind alley; a problem is a road that leads to greater prospects. When problems are viewed as ends in, and of, themselves, they become humongous, take on the form of a terrifying Goliath, and are isolated from the overriding goals and objectives of the organizations. But the reality is that how a challenge is handled is often the defining moment of a leadership. A leader either rises to the occasion in glory or bows to it in failure. What keeps the leader above the problem is the ability to focus on the vision. When he is able to ensure that the big picture remains the focus all the time, the problem becomes smaller and turns out to be a stepping stone to the desired future.
Leaders and problems
Problem is the food of leaders; they have it for breakfast, lunch and supper. They also snack on it. Leadership, especially at the highest level, is synonymous with problem management. Leaders are employed to provide solutions to problems, not occasionally, but every time because problems are a daily occurrence. They may appear in different forms but they happen all the time and the leader must provide solutions to them. The more problems a leader solves, the more adept he becomes at solving problems and the more he justifies his retention on the job. So, great leaders don’t surrender to problems, they do not allow problems to overwhelm them but they get so accustomed to problem that they can sniff it a thousand miles away. They know that the end of a problem is the beginning of another. So, they prime themselves always to tackle any problem that may surface in the course of their duties.
A common denominator of great leaders is that they learn how to anticipate problems. They do this by studying the trend in their industry. Understanding the trend gives them an edge over others and they are able to anticipate and identify problems before they become common knowledge. Leaders don’t wait for problems to escalate; rather they take the initiative and confront every budding problem head-on. So, while poor leaders expend their days and nights as well as assets and liabilities on tackling a problem, great leaders look around, beneath and beyond the problem itself. They are not as bothered about the problem as they are motivated by the opportunities it avails them.
Truth about problems
Problems may appear in different garbs or emerge in different shapes and sizes but they are basically the same. Problems may don the garment of process issues, marketing difficulties, adverse government policies or illiquidity, but problems are the same in that inherent in every problem is the solution and fresh opportunities. Those who get weighed down by the magnitude or shape of the problem never get to see the solutions or the opportunities. That is why they get stuck in it and have the problem run rings around them.
Leaders face diverse problems every time but they make a choice of either allowing themselves to be overwhelmed by the problems or see same as prospects in disguise. The solution to every problem is the opportunity therein. Problems linger when they are continually seen as problems. The solution to a problem begins to manifest the moment the leader is able to change his perspective about it from being a problem to being a prospect. The solution to a problem is its inherent opportunity.
Jennifer Cutrona lives in Texas, in the United States of America. In April 2015, while she was jogging, a man accosted her. She felt defenceless and vulnerable, but she managed to escape. In her words, “My world of rainbows and butterflies was crushed. So, that day, I went home and sewed a knife sheath into my sports bra.”
The bra holds a small knife – it’s reinforced so the wearer doesn’t get poked. The knife is, however, sharp enough to cut the assailant so they let go of their victim. Having tried it and seeing its success, she decided to do same for other women.
“It’s a V-shape and there’s a magnet so it snaps in. I can do 10 cartwheels and it’s not coming out. A few women said ‘that scares me, a knife,’ so I came up with the pepper spray option,” Cutrona said.
She later got a patent for it and went into production.
She has also expanded the line, making bras that hold pepper spray, as well as yoga pants and sleeves for both men and women — all with special, hidden compartments to fit a knife, pepper spray or whatever tiny, self defense object the customer may prefer.
Now, Jennifer’s booby trap bra is a money spinner. But Jennifer never thought of becoming an entrepreneur; it was the assault she experienced that turned her into one. Not only did she solve the problem of likely assault, she also turned it into an opportunity to improve her lot.
How leaders turn problems into prospects
Outstanding leaders are never content with merely solving a problem but go a step further to turn same into a prospect. They do so by taking some steps. Here are some of them.
They think possibility
Everybody is a product of his thought. The thought that is allowed by an individual eventually becomes the person’s reality. Although motivational speakers have conferred magical powers on positive thinking, there is absolutely nothing magical about it. The way positive thinking works is that when a person believes something is possible, his subconscious mind goes to work to find ways of making the thought a reality. Conversely, when a person believes that something is not possible, his mind is shut to the possibility of that act being done. By choosing to see a problem as a stepping stone rather than an inhibiting mountain, the leader tasks his subconscious mind to explore diverse ways of turning his thought into his experience. The process goes on until the solution is found and the leader shouts ‘Eureka!’ This explains why when different leaders face the same situation they come out with different results. This is traceable to their perspective about the situation. For the leader who thinks that it is a stepping stone to something bigger and better, it will turn out just like that. But for the leader who thinks the task cannot be done, nothing gets done.
Apart from this, if a leader believes that the solution to a problem is beyond him, he will not give his best to it and, of course, that will affect the resolution of the problem.
Challenges throw up new opportunities
Great leaders believe that problems and opportunities are two sides of a coin; you can’t have one without the other. So, while tackling the problem, they do not lose sight of the opportunities. They embrace the problem with expectations. They keep searching until they find out where the opportunities in the problem are buried. They never stop turning around the situation until the opportunities turn up. With this attitude, they are never weighed down by the situation. They go about trying to solve the problem with the conviction that the situation will birth new opportunities for them.
Focus on creating opportunities for customers
Most organizations that have turned problems into prospects are those that are motivated by a desire to improve the life and living experiences of their customers. Those who make the most impact in life are those who premise their activities on improving the lot of others, not just their own. Hence, the motto of Rotary International, he profits most, he who serves best is very apt. A water-bearing pipe never suffers dryness.
The strength of Google is that it is focused on creating opportunities for others, not itself, but doing so has made it richer than most companies in the world. If Jennifer Cutrona had been consumed with solving her own problem without sparing a thought for others, she would have placed herself in a position to ward off likely assailants but she would never have made money out of that experience.
Move beyond the past
Many leaders romanticize the past; they keep going back to what worked in the past so they find it difficult to move to new opportunities. When they are faced with problems they go back to the strategy which once worked for them forgetting that strategies have expiry dates.
As observed by Albert Einstein, a problem cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created it. Every problem is a consequence of the prevailing thinking. Solving it requires novel thinking, until the thinking is altered, the result cannot be different.
Having the right people
Professor Jim Collins’s exceptionally good book, Good to Great can be summarized in two sentences. To be great, a company must get out the wrong people and bring in the right ones. Then, the right personnel must be properly positioned.
As simple as this appears, it is critical to the success of any organization. The performance of an organization is the aggregate of its people’s competence. To ascend new heights, an organization must have the right people. Being right has to do with having the right competencies and attitude. No company can get stuck in any problem if it is peopled by persons with the appropriate competencies and attitudes.
Miracles happen when a leader resolves to turn problems into prospects.