Tips on how leaders can solve the right problem.A few nights ago, Judy and I entered the directions to a holiday party in the car’s GPS. We drove the 20 minutes with confidence and ended up on a dark road, totally wrong address, and not a clue as to where to go.

We’d taken all the right steps, followed the correct procedures, and ended up in the wrong place.

We’d solved a problem and created an answer, it just was simply the answer to the wrong problem.

Has this ever happened to you? 

 The Increased Rate of Change

Everything is moving faster, makes more impact, and is increasingly interconnected. Without a clear direction of where we are going, or leading, we will only get to the wrong result faster.

Clarity, focus and systematic solutions to all of our problems are not only important, they are critical.


In reviewing our strategic plans for the coming year, going so far as to diagraming our various systems, it became increasingly clear how every part of our company is truly interconnected. Leadership decisions made in the sales or marketing area impact service, while Third Party Administration and record-keeping decisions impact finance, HR and our advisory area.

Identifying and understanding the interconnectedness is obviously critical.

So, between the increased rate that everything is changing and the interconnectedness of all that is changing, identifying and solving the “right problem” is critical. The implications of not solving the right problem are immense, costly, and very frustrating.

Solving the wrong problem, no matter how elegantly, has little value. As a matter of fact it may create more problems than it even solves.

3 Tips for Leaders Solving the Right Problem

1.  Identify What’s Wrong, the Root Cause

So often the most easily identified problem or issue is not the problem, it is only the symptom.

For example, a key salesman’s productivity drops dramatically. The salesman reports that the product pricing is too high and he can’t sell the product any more. Leaders go to work on the product pricing options, product design and packaging, collaborate with vendors on supply chain issues, and form a strategic pricing team to evaluate the competition.

After months of angst, reduced sales, significant investment, and even some internal finger pointing, it is learned that the salesman is having severe emotional problems and is spending most afternoons in the movie theatre.

No sales calls, no sales. No enthusiasm, no sales.

No one dug into the cause of the problem, the root cause, and settled for working on the the symptom.

There is an old adage:  If you want to know what the real problem is, assume all that you see are only  symptoms. Research and peel away the layers of symptoms until you find the real problem.

A parallel thought is that when you truly want to know what someone thinks , ask them a version of the same question, three times.

For example, “How are you?” They answer in a perfunctory manner, “Fine”. “Great, so now how are you really?” They now respond in more depth. Then, “So, tell me more about that?” Now you have a chance to uncover what is real, immediate, and true. You can identify more clearly what is true.

Now you can understand, support, encourage or advise. Whatever is appropriate.

So, finding the root cause of the problem, or opportunity gone wrong, is the first step to solving it.

2.  Write Out Alternative Solutions

Rank the options.

In order to do this, you must be able and reasonably sure you have identified the real problem and root causes.

Write out the problem as succinctly as you can and run it by a trusted advisor to make sure it is clearly stated.

During this process, solutions will begin to surface. As possible solutions surface, write them down, again as clearly and succinctly as you can.

When you have a list of possible solutions identified, you are 50% of the way to solving the problem. The pieces to the “solution puzzle” connected with each possible solutions are:

a. This solution will solve the problem because…….
b. The financial cost or impact of this solution is……
c. The people, or staff, this solution will impact are…..
d. The further benefit beyond just solving the problem with this alternative are…..

Then rank the solutions scoring each of the four (or you may add a fifth) on a zero to five ( 0-5) scale.

The highest score wins.

3.  Develop the Solution and Act Decisively

Be Bold.

Procrastination and “dithering”, a particularly irksome form of procrastinating, are the root reasons why problems often do not get solved, even when a solution is clear. There are many adages that address this key step in the “solving the right problem” conundrum:

 “You can’t win the lotto if you don’t buy a ticket”.

“You can’t make a sale unless you first walk out the door”.

And then my grandfather’s admonition, “Once begun is half done”.

The most helpful insight into this third step is to acknowledge that a decision, a decision to act, only takes about 2 seconds. Everything else is preliminary….the decision only takes two seconds.

10 Seconds of Bold Can Change the Way you LeadSo, when you think about it, if every day you only used 10 seconds of BOLD, you’d change your life.

10 Seconds of Bold means that you had made 5 decisions to ACT each and every day. Five decisions of 2 seconds each. 10 Seconds of Bold, will change your life.

If you made even one of those decisions regarding how you spend or save money, how you handle your retirement plan, how you make staff acquisition or staff training programs, how you deal with a troublesome neighbor, friend co-worker or staff member, It will change your life. I’ll write more about this in my next blog.

In order to solve the right right problem you must:

1. Know its root cause so you are truly solving the “right” problem

2. Identify alternative solutions so you have a chance to solve that right problem

3. Using a 10 second of Bold approach means there is a likelihood that the right problem will  truly get solved.

Remember, if you assume the problem you see it as a symptom and act accordingly- following the 3 tips outlined above-life will get better, you will be increasingly productive, your leadership will be stronger and lives will be changed. 

We continue the journey together with Trusted Advice along The Way.