You're having problems at work. Who isn't? Whether you're the CEO of a major airline or the lowest person on the organizational chart there are bound to be problems at work. It's just the nature of organizations. Groups tend to have problems---even in great companies. What makes the difference is how problems are handled. Do you have a strategy for solving problems at work? Well, you should...
But, is there really a simple way to handle every problem at work? Probably not. Every problem is different depending on the personalities involved, the circumstances that created it, and the outcomes that are sought. Still, we'll be looking at solutions to common problems that leaders face in the office. Listen, even the best leaders face challenges. The best leaders are not immune to problems, missteps, or failure. However, the best leaders have learned how to recover quickly, refocus immediately, and assure their followers.
In general, I've found people naturally believe they fall into two packs. There are the leaders on one end and followers on the other end. They go by many names---Alphas or Betas, Type As or Type Bs, Generals vs Soldiers, Bosses vs Every One Else. Most people do have a preference---they either want to lead or follow. Yet, the truth is that the majority of people, even though they default to one role or the other, fall somewhere in between along a broader continuum. That default is situational based on several factors such as: one's comfort level, personality type, motivators, and other factors. The key is to figure out what your preference is and why that is your default modus operandi.
Do you believe you are more of a leader than a follower? Have you found that you lead better in high-stress situations? Or when things are calm and steady? Do you want to lead to boss people around? Because you don't want to be controlled? Do leaders seem to have life better and have more "fans"? Do you follow to avoid responsibility? Or because you believe being "part of the team" makes you more liked? Or that it's the best way to serve? This is important to know.
Solution #1: Develop Your Self-Awareness
Knowing the type of leader you are and how you lead the best will help you address issues better. Why? Because a key part of leadership and problem-solving is self-awareness. The best leaders, the ones who are most effective, who we remember, are highly self-aware. They know who they are and how they are and they also know how they respond and why. It is for this reason that most people do not become masters at leadership. Because self-awareness is hard work. It means being brutally honest with yourself. It means being your harshest critic and most loving supporter. Because to be self-aware, you must identify and then evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Fair enough, but where most people falter, is at the next stage--- taking the steps to address and develop those areas---continuously.
But, what if the problem isn't interpersonal...? It's still requires interpersonal interaction to be solved. Even if you're a solopreneur, you have to work with or engage others. Knowing how you handle situations goes a long way towards framing how you will address others involved in creating a solution. If you know you tend to have an aggressive demeanor, how do you think that will translate when you address someone who is passive? If you prefer working alone, how will you fix the project delay with a team that prefers continuous collaboration? If you have a passive aggressive SVP, who is only concerned with how they look and drop the ball on issues they don't feel is important to advancing their career...how will you escalate an issue when you tend to become overly emotional under stress? Knowing who you are and how you are will help you see others more clearly and how you affect them.
Solution #2: Figure out How you will handle negative feedback
Following along with the first solution, is figuring out in advance how you will handle negative feedback. The best way to handle negative situations is to decide before hand how you will handle it. How am I supposed to plan in advance for a problem I don't even know is coming, especially if I'm supposed to be positive. Well, think back to when you were a tween. You were smart enough to do some consequential thinking, but probably not mature or savvy enough to know your parents were not completely clueless. Well, if you did something wrong and knew you were going to get in trouble you created a plan in advance of how you would address the issue when it was brought up. Many times before you committed your flagrant childish infraction you thought out the potential situations and scenarios that could occur. So, you built safeguards into your plan.
Same thing here, except you should have way more savvy then you did at 13. These are not the same level of problem, but the principle is the same. By now, you know all the characters at work. You know the tasks and activities everyone is working on. If you're paying even a little bit of attention (and you should be paying tons of attention because life is chess) you know what's going on in the office. With this knowledge, you have enough of a framework to anticipate guaranteed issues and plan for potentially unplanned issues to arise. This is why self-awareness is key. Because as you become more self-aware you become more conscientious and aware of others. As a project manager, one of the tasks I had to do at the beginning of every project is create contingency plans. Well, you guessed it that was planning for issues in advance and deciding before they came how I would deal with it. You should do the same...come up with contingency plans. I mean if you know the CEO's Assistant will probably have an attitude if you try to get her to slide in the signatures you want that day at 4:59PM...plan for how you'll handle it!
Solution #3: Determine How Important the issue is
Nevertheless, of equal importance is how important the issue is for you to deal with or solve. Some things you just have to let be. Every challenge even if it comes to you is not for you to fix. You have to determine how important the given problem is for you. Does it affect your departments profit-and-loss? Does it impact one of your direct reports? Does it infringe on your rights or is it illegal? Is it unethical? Is this a problem that you can delegate? You need to use your time, energy and resources efficiently, effectively, and wisely.
I remember when I was working for a health insurer and each month we had to report where we would send sales reps to market. Every month, the software I had to use to create the report failed. For reasons we will discuss in another post, no one senior enough to effect change was willing to take the lead on addressing this issue. So, it fell to me to do it. One month, the system went completely out of whack. The HRIS system was not syncing with the Data Warehouse table, and because it wouldn't sync it couldn't give me the full list of employees, their territories, or schedules. After two weeks of going back and forth between about nine departments (seriously), I decided I'd make an executive decision. I had to get the report out and getting it out on schedule was important to me. But, arguing with sales admins was not. So, I delegated the responsibility of wrangling the sales admins to the one sales admin who I knew was a rockstar. I didn't have time to reach out to all of the sales people, their managers and their directors. So, I schedule a meeting with their VPs and asked them to mobilize their teams for me. I wasn't responsible for communicating with the city, state, and federal government nor was it ultimately my job to ensure we were compliant. So, I reached out to the SVPs and explained to them the issues and asked for their assistance. I made sure I underpromised on my ability to deliver (stay tuned for the second part of that statement). I also didn't give a damn that my boss was yet again trying to undermine me in order to cover her ass rather than support me. Lastly, I was not willing to get in the turf war between HR and IT. So, I sent an email, ran up and down stairs, had numerous calls, and sometimes very strongly let people know I needed stuff done. What was important to me was that my job was done well.
The system wasn't fixed on time. The sales admins didn't stop bickering. The sales team continued to complain about creating manual schedules. The regulators, auditors, compliance officers and analysts were extremely concerned and needed constant assurance. My boss didn't change. But, I got that report out on time. I knew who I was and I knew who the other players in this drama were. I planned for as many contingencies as possible and made sure I left room for issues I hadn't planned for. Additionally, because I decided this was important for me to get done, I let go of the problems that weren't. I underpromised, but over delivered because it was important for who I am and because it bought me cache for a future negative experience.
Keep this in mind this week as you can address common issues at work. As you go through them you may discover they are also helpful in your other relationships, so don't be afraid to test them out. I would suggest you jot notes as you go through the week. Keep a journal. Note the following things:
Your initial reaction to the problem.
How well or not so well you believe you handled it.
What steps you believe you can take immediately to implement the corrective actions suggested and better yourself.
Record how you feel at the end of the week. Also, note any feedback you've received from others during your implementation. Was the feedback mostly positive or negative? How can you adjust based on that feedback?
As always, you should comment below and let me know if this helped you. I'd recommend sharing this with an accountability partner who will keep you honest and support your steps. If you find any of this extremely difficult or your instinctively reject it, schedule an appointment and we can work through it together.
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