ATTN Leaders: How to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Mar 10, 2022 1 Min Read
printed sticky notes on board for problem solving
Source:Photo by Daria Nepriakhina @ unsplash
Leaders pay close attention!

Every professional needs to be good at solving problems, and this applies whether you are an intern, a CEO or anywhere in between.

Those in leadership roles are definitely able to benefit more from having well-developed problem solving skills, because their ability to overcome challenges will have more of an impact on the course of the entire company.

So how can leaders go about building up their repertoire of problem-quashing capabilities? Let’s discuss just some of the best options around.

Be clear about what your problems are

You can’t solve problems if you don’t have a rock solid definition of what the issue is in the first place. Likewise if problems are interconnected, you can get distracted by associated concerns, and forget what the original one was.

Clarity helps a lot, and should be your first port of call when approaching problem solving, whether in your life as a leader or in any other context. Achieving it is as simple as making a note of hurdles as soon as you encounter them, providing as much detail as possible, so that you can quantify the challenge and build towards a solution from this foundation.

Make the solution your focus

When dealing with problems in business, it’s easy to get bogged down in the specific details of the conundrum itself, which can be both time-consuming and demoralising.

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It is better to re-frame this process in a positive way by prioritising the search for a solution instead. That does not mean you can dismiss the problem entirely, but rather that the task of solving it is often easier with a small perspective adjustment like this.

Of course solutions can take many forms, and while a short term fix might be useful temporarily, you also need to look towards long term ways for overcoming problems, so that you are ready for them if they reoccur.

For example, if you are having to handle a conflict between two team members, it is wise to work towards a mutually agreeable solution which applies in this particular scenario, as well as establishing options for avoiding similar conflicts in the future.

Other crucial business skills to develop

Problem solving is only one of the business skills for leader and manager types to accrue, and so you should see that by working on and building new abilities in other areas, you can actually help enhance your ability to overcome whatever obstacles lay in your path.

For example, if you are a good collaborator, then you can solve problems more successfully as part of a team, rather than endeavoring to deal with them solo.

Likewise if you are a robust critical thinker, you will be able to size up snafus and turn them into opportunities.

Thus problem solving should not be seen in a vacuum, or as a distinct skill in itself, but rather as an amalgamation of other leadership skills. That said, it remains a foundational feature of good leaders, and is still a sensible focus when you are fleshing out your abilities.

Learn to listen

Following on from the discussion of collaboration being a skill that falls under the umbrella of problem solving, it is additionally worth mentioning that listening skills must also be fostered by leaders.

Active listening is advantageous, because it doesn’t mean sitting back and waiting until you have a chance to put your view across. Instead, it means choosing to engage with what others are saying, and extracting value from their contributions as a result.

Leadership isn’t about having the answers to all the questions, but about making use of the other experts within your organisation to find the right path forward. Learning to listen will let you achieve this, whatever dilemmas you face.

Listen to this, Effective Listening Skills: React or Respond?

The supplementary perk of practising active listening as a leader is that employee satisfaction will also increase, as the people you bring into your confidence will feel valued and respected. Likewise you can leverage this as a learning opportunity, tapping into the wellspring of knowledge that each team member represents.

Always aim to improve and adapt

Good leaders realise that you can always enhance your skills and add new ones to your arsenal, and this definitely goes for problem solving.
Part of this is about choosing to accept the mistakes you have made and taking the chance to learn from them, rather than shifting the blame elsewhere, closing your eyes and ears to the realities of the scenario.

Throughout your career you should be getting better at battling back against all sorts of problems, and with the help of the right team around you, as well as your own adaptability, this will stand you in good stead for long term success.

Read more: How To Increase Your Corporate Agility

Concluding considerations

It could be argued that problem solving is the primary purpose of any leader. When stewarding a team or helming a whole organisation, the daily duties you fulfil will inevitably be focused on finding the right route forward and navigating obstacles, both internal and external, in order to reach your destination.
Leadership requires finely honed problem solving skills on both a micro and a macro level because of this. And if you operate in a very competitive marketplace, or run a business that is especially susceptible to sudden fluctuations in demand, then being able to overcome conundrums efficiently time after time could mean the difference between weathering storms or faltering when times get tough.
As discussed, you don’t have to do this alone, and ultimately your problem solving prowess will be further enhanced if you are good at delegating. Hiring the right people and trusting them to do well when problems come calling is better than seeing yourself as the only one who is able to conquer concerns.

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Lastly, be open to the possibility that mistakes have been made, and choose to learn and grow from them, as opposed to feeling frustration without taking on-board the lessons it can bring with it.

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