Problems as a leader are inevitable, such as: missing deadlines, managing expectations, team friction and poor communication. These certainly cause hurdles contributing to pressure and stress. Whilst some problems can be bigger than others and harder to navigate, it’s not the actual problem but the human mind-set that gets in the way. Leaders get uncomfortable when uncertainty strikes, because within problems, are gaps.
From our early careers and indeed lives, we are guided to smooth things over, fill in the gaps, cover the silences and have everything ‘just so’. Having a gap is often akin to failure. But, problems and gaps actually shape us. They help us to stretch, consider, choose, think, analyse, understand our boundaries and beliefs in order to ultimately, solve and grow. This is also called innovation.
A problem itself is really just fact, a set of non-emotive data. The emotion leaders attach to the fact can be where problems get hard. Emotions can carry people into a spiral particularly when they’ve attached the emotion to something they experienced some time ago, and then allow it to compound over time. The brain seeks to continue to prove what it sees or experiences as true, so we find ways to keep attaching our emotional version to the facts that surround us. Stacking the connections in our neural pathways over and over again, so that it all becomes so big. The good news is: the spiral can be prevented.
In his book, Creativity & Problem Solving, Brian Tracy says: ‘Everybody is inherently creative. Creativity is a tool provided by nature to man to ensure survival, and to deal with the inevitable problems and challenges of daily life.’ If we employed more principles of creativity, we will uniquely solve more problems.
Here are 3 creative principles leaders can practice to allow problems to shape them rather than limit them:
Get more comfortable with not knowing
Life doesn’t come at us in straight lines. Searching for gaps, understanding that sometimes we need to wait, or stand back, or change perspective until an answer appears, is important. Trusting that not knowing can mean gaining a totally new piece of information. It takes self-trust and patience to deal with not knowing. Have you ever had a manager or leader who demonstrated the ability to just slow it down, think and ask questions? Did you feel included, respected and appreciative that they were willing to engage, not just dictate? The answer is likely, yes.
Embrace gaps and increase critical thinking
Realise where emotion meets fact. Look at what is occurring from a critical standpoint. Be critical. Analyse the information in front of you. Write it down, make categories on pages, and fill in what you know to be a fact and what is an emotion. Get used to checking yourself and those around you. What are you placing importance on? Within gaps, so much more can be found if we allow ourselves to look more deeply. That’s where innovation, new ideas and connections will be made. Go a step further and encourage your peers, your board, your teams to use this method in meetings, performance reviews or meetings with importance.
Solve little problems quickly.
Leaving little problems to fester will only make them stronger. The subconscious will continue to ponder, work through, store information even when the conscious isn’t aware of it. If leaders let arguments, financial situations, negative thoughts, worry or any other nagging issues continue unsolved, it will cause the bigger problem to form a stronger foundation. Get used to listening to your thinking. Get used to checking the meaning and coming to the healthy conclusion to put the problem to bed once and for all. No need to waste your energy on what can be solved quickly. Ask the same of the people in your team. Help them to realise what a little problem is versus a small problem. Ask of them to diffuse the little problems to ensure focus is where it should be.
Workplaces deserve the best leaders who have so much impact on those around them. Get used to them, problems happen anyway. Be a problem solver, and a good one at that.
Originally published in The Educator adjusted for Principals (Head of Schools)