Unlocking the Problem-Solving Secret
As a leadership expert and professor of management at Bryant University, Roberto previously wrote the book Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer. In it, he explored the concept of decision making and provided leaders with a set of tools for solving organizational problems. After that book was finished and ready to be published, he discovered something new that would completely change his perspective on his subject matter.
Find Problems First
Roberto had a conversation about leadership with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that would completely shift the direction of his work in the field of decision making. While the two men spoke about the case-study method of teaching the art and craft of management, McNamara explained that he saw one major flaw in this approach to preparing leaders to lead. While the case method generally frames the problem that must be solved, McNamara pointed out, real life decision making is not so easy because leaders in the real world must first learn to identify the true problem facing the organization before solving it. Doing this, he added, is much more difficult than the actual solving of the problem. He explained that the best leaders are those who can look over the horizon and spot problems before they become threats.
This conversation, Roberto explains, changed his entire outlook on the work he had been doing up to that point. He then set out to write his next book, not about decision making, but about problem finding. Instead of focusing on how leaders can solve organizational problems, he looked at the deeper process of finding problems before they threaten greater calamity. Know What You Don’t Know offers seven sets of skills that all leaders can use to become better problem finders.
Seven Critical Skill Sets
The first problem-finding capability Roberto describes is recognizing that people around leaders often filter the information they deliver to their bosses. He writes that leaders must work hard to find ways to “circumvent these filters.”
Next, Roberto writes, leaders need to act like anthropologists so that they understand how people really behave in their natural environments. By doing this, great problem solvers can discover when people are saying one thing but doing something else.
Seasoned problem solvers also look for and discover patterns in past experiences so they can recognize a problem before it gets out of hand, he adds. Plus, they know how to “connect the dots” of the small pieces of data they receive and turn them into meaningful information. In addition, they encourage risk taking and see reasonable mistakes as opportunities to gain better insight.
Effective problem solvers also know how to enhance their own communication skills as well as those of the organization. And lastly, Roberto explains, great problem solvers habitually perform “after-action reviews” and look in the mirror for signs of future trouble.
By digging into the mindset of the master problem solver, Roberto offers all leaders better ways to develop the intellectual curiosity, systemic thinking and healthy paranoia they need to find problems before those problems find them.