Harvard professor Joe Badaracco knows that most of the time leaders have a pretty good idea of what to do next. Their work is a matter of working with others to get it done, stick to the plan and help people to stay on task.
But then there are the other times when, as a leader, you really have no idea what to do about a specific problem. So Badaracco started studying those challenging times. His insights are captured in his book released this week: Managing in the Gray: Five Timeless Questions for Resolving Your Toughest Problems at Work.
While there is no right or wrong answer, the key is to “work through the issue like a manager, but answer like a human.” His questions won’t answer your questions… but they will give you insight and point you in the right direction. (BTW, his questions sound like they came from a university professor, so I’ve provided my interpretation.)
1. Removing my biases, what are the facts? (His question was: What are the net/net consequences? I told you he sounds like a professor!)
We all have our ideas, preferences, and our biases. That’s because we are human. But our preconceived opinions get in the way of our objectivity. This will help: acknowledge your biases! Admit them and write them down. Only then you can set them aside and get others to help you see the facts clearly.
2. To whom is my primary duty? (His question: What are my core obligations?) He says, “Put yourself in the shoes of all the key stakeholders, especially the most vulnerable ones.” It really helps leaders to view the world through the eyes of another person.
3. How do I keep it real? Too often I want to summarize the issue into a tidy little metaphor so I can quickly move on. What about you? In the words of my grandpa, “Wait just a dog gone minute here!” Slow down long enough to consider trends and future possibilities. Today we have a ton of information at our fingertips—take the time to use it.
4. What’s best for us? The solution will affect your entire team, so gaining their perspectives will be helpful. In an emergency you do not have the time; but most situations are not emergencies.
These first four questions act as a funnel. You’ve narrowed your options, you’ve dealt with your prejudices, and you’ve considered the opinions of others. Here is the kicker…
5. What can I live with? You’re about to hear a nugget of leadership gold—I learned had never considered this truth: the best answer to this tough problem is… what you decide it is! You don’t “find the answer,” you create the answer!
At the end of the day, somebody has to make the tough call; welcome to leadership! You answer the first 4 questions then you say, “Here is what we’re going to do. I’ll do my part and here’s what I’d like you to do… and here is how we’ll measure our progress.”
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