Several years ago, I was packing up materials after a successful day-long class when one of the workshop participants returned to the room to ask me a few questions. My assumption was; she was not comfortable asking her questions in the presence of her peers. We had a pleasant conversation about the day’s content and yet it appeared she still had another uncomfortable topic she wanted to discuss.
Turning, as if to leave, she looked around to make sure no one else was within earshot and, almost in a whisper she said, “You are so very lucky you don’t work here!”
“Oh, why is that?” I inquired.
Again, looking around nervously she leaned in closer and said softly, “Because this company has problems! Lots and lots of problems.”
We visited for at least another half an hour. While I believe I listened with compassion, empathy, and concern, I am not sure she appreciated my well-intended response to her assertion. In fairness to her, I had worked with that company long enough to know they did indeed have a lot of pressing problems to be addressed. And, because I had never worked there as an employee, I doubt I fully appreciated the extent, or magnitude of all the problems she saw from her perspective and experiences as an employee.
However, over the years I have had the opportunity to get a “glimpse under the hood” of dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of companies. All of them have lots of problems. It is way too easy to imagine the grass is greener at other companies, and that other companies have it all figured out. Trust me when I say, problems are everywhere.
For your consideration, here are a few of my observations about problems.
- Thinking that having problems… is a problem. I love Theodore Isaac Rubin’s quote above. All companies, indeed, all people, have problems; that is life! My mom used to say, “Into everyone’s life some rain must fall.” (I did not know at the time Mom borrowed that quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.) The only people who do not have problems are now deceased, everyone else has problems. Not only are problems a part of life, they give life meaning, richness and depth. Every person, family, company, city, county, state, and yes, every country has problems!
- Our attitudes about problems can make our problems seem worse. In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Jack Sparrow is given credit for this quote, “The problem is not the problem; the problem is your attitude about the problem.” Learning to see problems as opportunities for growth and improvement is part of the magic. My mom also said, “Without rain, there would be no rainbows” (she borrowed this quote from Gilbert K. Chesterton).Imagine the learning opportunities problems present to those who see themselves as curious students of life. Almost every innovation we enjoy today, exists because someone saw a “problem” that was crying out for a solution. Not only did they come up with a solution, but they also learned lessons that will be applicable to other more complex problems in the future.
- Are you a problem solver? If so, you have lifetime employment potential. This is one of the concepts I shared with the young workshop participant during our discussion. Since all companies have problems, if you become a good problem solver, you might just have lifetime employment potential. The truth is, if companies did not have problems, they would not need most employees. But, since companies do have problems, they are always in need of effective problem solvers. You could be that person! Instead of complaining about problems, maybe there is even reason to be grateful. You can become a valuable resource by helping to solve problems, not simply pointing out the fact that we have problems and proclaiming, “somebody should do something.”
- Be solution focused, not problem focused. Anyone can point out problems, that is so easy to do. Even Henny-Penny, a children’s book character, could scream, “The sky is falling. The sky is falling.” When I was inside the corporate world, the people I had the most respect for were those who could define a problem and offer ideas, solutions, or at least a plan to resolve the problem. I loved it when someone came into my office, described a problem, and then said, “Here is what I think we should do to resolve it.” Or even better, “Here are actions I can take to help solve this problem.”
- It is often the system, not the people. I have often asked workshop participants the following question: “What happens when you take caring, hardworking, smart people and ask them to work with less than ideal processes, systems, and/or tools?” The answer they usually give… when you ask caring, hardworking, smart people to work with less than ideal processes, broken systems, and defective tools; you get less than ideal results.Unfortunately, too many times, we want to blame those same caring, hardworking, smart people for the less than desirable results. Maybe it is not entirely their fault. The question now becomes, who is responsible for improving those systems? Leaders? Managers? Employees? Everyone? (Perhaps these are good questions for all of us to be asking ourselves during these difficult times.) If you are in a leadership position, systems and processes are a significant portion of your responsibility.
Would most of us prefer a life without problems? Certainly, most would easily answer with a resounding yes! If I am honest with myself, I also would prefer a life without problems; but then, I would not know what I know today, or even be where I am in my career or life. Peter Marshall said it best when he said, “When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.”
The problems we have faced, and resolved in the past, have helped prepare us for the problems we will need to address now and in the future. Problems are not always a “bad thing.” What problems will you address “head on” this coming week.
Here are a couple of related MMM missives:
Click here to read; Weeds, Green Grass, and People; Leadership Lessons from Mother Nature
Click here to read; Are My Problems My Fault?
Bonus Quotes below:
How will you live, or lead, differently or better this week? What problems will you be a partial solution for this week?
“Expanding Your Capacity for Success?
Do you know someone who might benefit from this weekly leadership minute? If so, please feel free to pass along the subscription link below:
Click here to sign up for my weekly leadership message entitled Monday Morning Minute.
- “Inside of every problem lies an opportunity.” – Robert Kiyosaki
- “Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem.” – Virginia Satir
- “Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.” – Brian Tracy
- “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
- “Remind yourself that problems come not to obstruct, but to instruct.” – Brian Tracy
- “Your ability to solve problems and make good decisions is the true measure of your skill as a leader.” – Brian Tracy
- “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill
- “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
- “If you have a positive attitude and constantly strive to give your best effort, eventually you will overcome your immediate problems and find you are ready for greater challenges.” – Pat Riley
- “Expect problems and eat them for breakfast.” – Alfred A. Montapert
- “Every problem is a gift. Without them we wouldn’t grow.” – Tony Robbins
- “Running away from a problem only increases the distance from the solution.” – Anonymous
- The best way to resolve any problem in the human world is for all sides to sit down and talk.” – Dalai Lama
- “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” – Colin Powell