The Only Real Problem There Is

Seeing an issue comprehensively and exhaustively comes before doing anything practical about it.

Person working at computer

You're waiting to see if this piece is worth reading further, right? Here are three short next sentences that will help you decide whether to read on or move on.

The only real problem there is, is the one you can't see. That's one sentence. With me so far?

But that's not your only problem. Underneath that one is a second one: If you're a hotshot, you think you can see what others can't see, and you're even pretty sure you can see through your own blind spots. That's arrogance.

Your third problem is that when you have a question or need clarification, you don't really know who you can open up to. You're not sure how being seen as needy and vulnerable could play to your advantage. That's the bias of a hotshot.

You could ask upstream, but that's risky. You don't want to be perceived as weak, not in control and not all-knowing.

You could ask cross-stream to your peers, but that's risky too — it opens you up to being taken advantage of. Second bias.

Asking your direct reports is out of the question. What could they know? What value would their POV add? Nothing, right? Third bias.

Your fourth problem is around trust and control. You're the subject matter expert. You know. Others, not so much. You represent more. Others, less. Fourth bias.

The fifth problem is that you're isolated. You know it, but you think others don't. That's the fifth bias.

Those working around you know what you're out of touch with, even if you think they don't. That's the point here: You don't see what you think you see.

The only problem there is, is the one you don't see.

For the vast majority of us, the issue behind all our real problems is our perception of reality. It's typically biased and distorted. For example, most of us think that our people need us more than we need them. Welcome to the delusion.

We need our people way more than they need us. Way more. Consider this: If they check out, that means we're on our way out. If they underproduce, then we underdeliver. Once we understand our role as leaders, a shift happens. We move beyond performing as a subject matter expert, and we start working more across others. We move from boss mind, which serves only ourselves, to a servant leader serving others.

We come to realize that as leaders, our success will be evaluated not by what we know, but by how our knowledge of others adds to work quality.

We see achievement less as what we own and produce and more about what our people own and attain.

Servant leaders understand that growth depends on developing our resource assets, which are our people. We then focus on growing their competencies, confidence, commitment and self-starting autonomy.

We recognize that scaling the scope of our work footprint across others empowers others. Everyone who contributes thrives as they contribute value and are recognized for it.

Keep in mind the emphasis here is on seeing before doing and understanding before acting. You have to plan, set measures, organize, create realistic performance measures and gain buy-in, all before acting.

If what you read here makes sense to you, here are 16 action steps that can help you better see what you need to see across the collective intelligence of your people.

1. Define the business issue you're facing.

2. State clearly what matters most about it.

3. Establish the functional management area the issue is linked to (planning, organization structure, leading, controlling, processes/systems, execution).

4. Simply state what you want to see more clearly.

5. Assess the tangible and intangible skill areas of your people.

6. Delineate which diverse set of skills are most needed to understand the issue.

7. Map your ideal people to the competency areas you want to know more about.

8. List those you want to participate and why you want them present.

9. Add rising star talent to your list. Go outside your normal range of inclusion.

10. Structure your meeting, including its purpose and intention, and communicate that to all.

11. Let all participants know why they're being invited and what's needed before meeting.

12. Organize the meeting's topic, agenda and time, plus how you will facilitate this meeting.

12. Promote active listening to deepen learning before pole-vaulting into action.

13. Before ending, define what's needed, from whom by when.

14. Evaluate the quality of the meeting.

15. Thank and follow up with each participant to ensure what's wanted happens.

Remember the only problem there is, is the one you can't see.

We all need better seeing. Assuming your seeing is enough is far riskier than assuming it isn't.

Seeing an issue comprehensively and exhaustively comes before doing anything practical about it.

Create a culture of curiosity and seeing. Everyone will soon see the benefits.

The Newsweek Expert Forum is an invitation-only network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.
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