How Leaders Solve Problems

Leadership Organizational Culture

A leader of impact needs to know how to identify and solve problems.

As a leader, you’re going to hear a lot of complaints and issues with, and within, your organization. You’re also going to notice issues and problems more than other people on your management team.

These problems are going to range from customer issues, quality complaints, internal squabbles between departments, ERP system, or CRM issues – you name it. There are an abundance of issues to fix, and while some problems and issues can be dealt with by your team, there are some of them that you’re going to have to get personally involved with.

Which problems do you start with? Which ones are worth your time and attention? The answer to these questions takes wisdom, but here’s what I’ve learned over the years. Hopefully, it helps.

Start with the Customer Experience

My attention immediately piques when I hear of an issue involving a client or customer. If quality was an issue, if they had a negative experience, if there were problems in what was delivered, I want to dig into it.

Entrepreneurs know that customers are their lifeline, for without satisfied customers, there is no business. The best leading indicator for profitability is repeat customers and/or customer retention. Any problem that has the possibility of jeopardizing this, I jump on.

I’m always very concerned when Sr. Leaders are too far removed from their customers and even more concerned if they don’t use their own products. Do you not like it? Do you not like your customers? Do you feel your product or service is not providing value? Do you understand the process and experience that your customers are going through? Is it the best it can be?

There is no better motivation for a leader to solve an issue than experiencing the pain for themselves. Walk the floor. Eat your products. Sign-up and go through the process that you offer. If you experience the pain that customers or your staff have, you will understand it and be very motivated to solve it.

Solve Them Like an Engineer

What you will find is most issues arise from broken systems or lack of training of your staff. Ray Dalio in his book, Principles, says that great managers “see their organizations as machines and work assiduously to maintain and improve them.” The org chart, systems, equipment, and procedures are the machine that produces a specific output. Your people then operate that machine within those procedures to ensure the outcomes match the goals.

If there is an issue with the customer experience, and it’s more than one-off, you need to decide if it’s a “machine issue” or “people issue”.

Is the procedural system wrong or was it an error or oversight of the people operating within it? Your job is to ask questions around these two areas to really understand the root causes and identify where the breakdown was. Asking questions not only ensures you gather the right context, but it will also help your staff develop critical thinking skills.

Bring Clarity to the Next Steps

Once they feel they have the right information, a leader brings clarity to the solution or invites others into the clarifying process. You don’t always need to solve it yourself, but you do need to direct the next steps, ensuring people are focused on solving the real issue.

Setting the direction and providing people with the authority and resources (i.e. time, money, personnel) necessary to solve it is key. Then, follow-up and check in on progress until everyone (especially you) feel it’s solved.

There are a lot of ways leaders can solve issues and manage their organizations. Hopefully, these tips help you in your own journey.

Keep having impact.