LAUREN THARP COO Leadership Reality
You’re sitting in a 3 p.m. meeting with a few other colleagues in the boardroom with your afternoon coffee. The team is doing a post-mortem on a recent strategic initiative, with one colleague providing their analysis and solutions, another on theirs, and the cycle goes on. Some of the back-and-forth banter almost feels like people are speaking different languages, not even addressing the same issues. As you sit there, you have this continued sense that the team is throwing dart after dart, completely missing the dartboard.
At this point, you have two options. You could continue to hear the reports, make a conclusion and move on. Or you could listen to the uneasiness in your gut that’s telling you to keep pressing on.
What is the problem?
Defining Things Clearly
One of my favorite leadership movies is Moneyball. Billy Bean, played by Brad Pitt, is hired by the Oakland A’s to turn around their dismal team. In a classic leadership scene, Pitt is sitting at the boardroom table with the team scouts, discussing their strategies for moving forward. As each scout offers up their suggestions, Pitt zeros the conversation in. He keeps repeating “What is the problem?”, almost to the point of being annoying. Each scout continues to offer up their take on the problem, typically laden with solutions, Pitt keeps asking “What is the problem?”
Finally, Pitt gets to the heart of it — they are defining sub-problems but not the core problem. Only once the core problem is identified and agreed upon can the group begin to develop targeted solutions.
You can only successfully solve a problem if you have clearly defined the exact nature of the problem.
Can you relate to Billy Bean, continually finding solutions but they don’t address the core problem?
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Challenge the Process
At Leadership Reality, we focus on the research-based Leadership Challenge system in our workshops. They have defined five core principles of good leadership — Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. In our day-long workshops, I particularly love when we get to the Challenge the Process portion. We encourage participants to:
- stop the cycle of grinding and reactively doing;
- step back and define the work in front of them;
- use the resources around them to develop a strong list of ways to innovate and bring solutions;
- take a risk and don’t be afraid to fail with your solutions;
- learn from what you did and keep innovating.
In short, Challenge the Process is about clearly defining the objective or problem and creating new and innovative ways to strategically address it. You cannot effectively Challenge the Process if you haven’t clearly defined what it is you are challenging.
Three Steps to a Better Approach
Back to the beginning scenario, sitting with your team, discussing your strategic plan. Instead of ignoring your gut sense that the dart is far off the dartboard, try using these three steps to Challenge the Process:
- What is the problem? Clearly define the problem with all stakeholders, agreeing to the nature and scope. The common tendency is to jump to solutions first. Make sure you do the due diligence of defining the problem first.
- Who needs to be a part of the solution? Sometimes, we have too many or not the right people in the solution process. Having the appropriate stakeholders in the room is important.
- Don’t limit your solutions. Sometimes solutions are logical and easy; others they demand innovation, creativity, and collaboration. Don’t shy away from the latter, just because it’s more work and increased risk. You may surprise yourself!
In Moneyball, Billy Bean is able to reframe the team’s mission by identifying the core problem and addressing a strategic plan accordingly. The team goes on to win 19 straight games, tying for the longest winning streak in American League history. Success came for them because they clearly identified the problem and solution. Success for you may be smooth sailing, taking you to your own 19-game winning streak. It may also include failure and a bit of a winding road, but you will be a stronger leader because of it.
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