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October, 2010

Are You Part of the Problem?

From the start of my career, I had boss after boss reiterate "Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions."

I am sure that you have heard this before or even uttered it a few times yourself.

I didn't always fully understand how to "bring solutions" without pointing fingers.   It seemed that every time I had a solution in mind, it was based on finding something wrong...with someone else...somewhere, in some other role, department or function.  My solution often required changing something that wasn't in my direct control. You see, bringing solutions requires us to understand the problems, but the last place we like to look is ourselves. 

It is far easier to find the problems in others than it is to find them close to home.   However, real solutions that have lasting impact require you to find your component of the problem.

This is such an important leadership lesson. When you take accountability for your part of the problem, solutions can be found.  When you don't, no real change is made and the potential for a great deal of animosity can be generated.

I can tell countless stories about my corporate experiences of leaders imposing change because they only perceived things were broken outside of their silo.  They never took accountability that some aspect of the mess was also due to some of their own actions.  If only they had...

Fortunately though, I have other stories to show the lasting impact of leaders who do take accountability for their part of the problem. 

One of my former companies was going through a major restructuring and needed to go through rounds of layoffs.  In reality, the company was not performing to plan and they had over hired in many areas that couldn't justify the head count.  Instead of taking accountability for this problem, the leadership decided that one way of weeding through its people was to take an across-the-board approach and have everyone rated by a cross section of managers to assess if skills were at the level they needed to be.   There were target headcount reductions by department. 

 The result was that areas of the company that weren't over staffed were now very understaffed.  People who had favorable performance reviews were still let go because each department was held to its quota of lay-offs.  In my opinion, it was a non-accountable way of solving a problem.   As you could imagine, the impact of this "solution" was not optimal and had some real negative long-term effects. 

Interestingly, years later in working with one of my clients, the organization was facing a similar issue but for a different reason.  They needed to lay off people because their skill sets were no longer sufficient for where they were taking the organization.  They were upgrading jobs because the marketplace required it in order for the company to remain competitive.  But they did take accountability by realizing that they hadn't expected these people to be trained previously. 

As a result, they turned around and invested in training and set some benchmarks for people to achieve.  They did end up laying some people off, but they were the ones who hadn't met the new expectations. 

Fortunately, the leadership recognized that they were part of the problem and as a result, the solution was outstanding and long-lasting.

Like most leadership lessons, taking accountability for our part of the problem shows up in most areas of our lives.  These two examples show how it can magnify at the corporate and organizational level, but it can be evident in the simplest of problems you face every day.

Take for example the other day when I became so angry at my daughter, I could scream.  It seemed that everything I asked her that day was met with a firm no.  No, she didn't want to go with me to run errands.  No, she didn't want to help me with setting the table.  No, and no and no; it went on.  When finally I said very shortly, well that is it; you ARE going to go to visit our friends with me.

I have to admit that I really felt like I had lost any and all authority with her...and oh boy, she is only 6!  Just wait is all that I could think.  But before I reacted to reprimand her, I realized that one of my mantras with my daughter is "you always have the choice to say no."  So after this reflection about the problem, it was clear to me that my part of the problem was that I was asking her to decide as opposed to telling her what I wanted her to do.  My solution is that next time I want her to do something I better not phrase it as a question!

So when you are seeking a solution for a problem, start first with understanding how you may be a part of the problem.  Start here for lasting impact and stronger solutions.

Interested in one-on-one coaching? Contact Laura for some
customized coaching.
Laura Lopez is an award-winning author of The Connected and Committed Leader.  She is also a consultant, and a Birkman Method certified business and life coach who has been featured on the Today Show and Fox News.

In addition, her accomplishments have been highlighted in several business periodicals including  Personal Excellence, The Long Beach Business Journal, The Houston Chronicle, Latina Magazine, and Central Valley Business Times. Her articles on management and leadership are regularly seen in Leadership Excellence. 

Laura can be contacted via her Web site at: 

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All the best,
Laura Lopez
Laura Lopez & Company
(713) 868-5025
cell (713) 828-8829