Jeff Robinson, Kepner-Tregoe
Leadership is all about articulating a vision for the future, organizing the mission to make the vision possible and inspiring people to embody the behaviors necessary to achieve it. Leaders look to their environment and seek to understand how it is evolving - envisioning situations that could be made possible in the future that today are impossible.
This is the essence of problem solving – seeing beyond the current state of things, envisioning a future state that is more desirable, and navigating the changes that are necessary to achieve it. For some leadership seems to be an instinctual quality, but these “natural leaders” are quite rare and more often one will find that strong (and exceptional) leaders have developed their skills through training, experience and practice. For companies looking to develop leaders and individuals looking to strengthen their leadership skills, problem solving should be a core part of your leadership development program.
Leadership does not start with articulating a vision. That vision originates somewhere and in most cases the origin and inspiration for a future vision comes from observations and problems that exist in the present environment. Problem solving skills will help you learn to survey your environment to understand how things work together and identify those things that represent opportunities, risks and interdependencies. Some of these observations may just be informational and add to your overall contextual picture, but other observations may help you identify problems or un-tapped potential and the factors surrounding them that will help you form an alternate picture of how the environment “could be” in the future.
This alternative picture is your vision. Making your vision a reality typically does not happen alone – it requires the involvement of a number of people who will all contribute to the changes which must take place. Helping others to understand your vision requires you to articulate it in ways that they can understand it, that resonates with their perception of the environment and with a path of change that will lead from the state where they are today to where you want them to be in the future. Problem solving skills can help you decompose the various elements of the environment and understand the cause and effect relationships that exist in order to identify where changes would need to be introduced in order to yield the outcomes and impacts desired. By understanding this yourself, you will be better equipped to help others understand not only your future vision but what role they must play in the change in order to get there.
Once the vision is articulated and the process of change has begun, the environment will evolve and adapt to the forces applied upon it and the cause and effect chain reaction. As this happens, you will likely find that things are not happening in exactly the way you envisioned them. Considering overall complexity as well as the human factors, this won’t be surprising. Problem solving skills will help you identify risks (both positive and negative) associated with the changes taking place, assess their likelihood and impact to achieving the vision. Based on this assessment, you will be able to make informed decisions on whether to change course/approach or continue.
A strong leader is always looking outward and forward to identify potential obstacles that must be overcome or navigated around (even those beyond of view of others) to achieve the vision for the future. Problem solving skills are a critical part of leadership development and can be the difference between responding to what the environment presents and creating the environment you desire.
Organizations worldwide use our problem-solving courses as a staple learning platform to develop tomorrows leaders today.