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5 Steps Leaders Take to Solve Tough Problems

As businesses worldwide face an uncertain future, much of the rhetoric we see in the current situation hinges on hope. 

While we all hope things will improve, and that relief is just around the corner, for business owners and executives, weathering the Covid-19 storm means taking decisive actions.

“Hope is not a strategy,” writes author John Maxwell. 

In his best-selling book, Developing the Leader Within You, Maxwell explores the timeless problem-solving strategies of great leaders.

Right now, a solid strategy is what we all need to navigate our turbulent economy.

Leadership Lessons: Solving Problems, Getting Results

With insights from the book in mind, here’s a five-point plan you can use to improve your handling of tough decisions and enhance your leadership skills in the process.

1. Get a clear picture of the pressing problem

When a major problem stalls your progress, don’t keep it locked inside your head. Write down everything that appears to be a stumbling block, no matter how small. This gives you a broader view of the challenges and where connections and commonalities appear.

2. Seek input from colleagues who have been where you are

With your problem clearly defined, talk with leaders you respect and trust. Ask how they have handled similar challenges. Get their feedback on scenarios and potential solutions you’re considering. Can you apply aspects of their insights to your situation? You may find new perspectives and ideas from their experiences.

3. Understand that answers don’t always appear on-demand 

Urgently trying to find quick answers sometimes backfires: we might overlook key criteria or considerations, or rush forward in ways that can make a situation worse. Instead of paring down the decision time, reduce the research time by tapping into the experiences of those you know and trust that can offer relevant insights or resources.

4. Revisit and revise your priorities as needed

Take another look at your current and near-future priorities, as they apply to the core of the problem you’re aiming to solve. For instance, is new revenue or growth more critical than, say, retention or maintaining your workforce? Are there ways to achieve multiple goals (or parts of them) or are difficult decisions unavoidable, now or soon? Realigning priorities helps to ensure that when sacrifices must be made, you’re positioned for a more stable future.

5. Remain open to more than one simple solution

It’s human nature to look for simple answers: they’re often the best ones. However, with more complex problems, keeping an open mind to nuanced or layered solutions is a skill well worth mastering. When easy fixes aren’t an option, rate your solutions in tandem with your priorities, considering any trade-offs that may be required. This also helps you to develop contingency plans and adapt more quickly if intended solutions don’t go to plan.

Lead by example, strengthen your team and customer relationships

As business owners, we learn quickly that problems rarely take a holiday. But when it’s our own venture, or we’re on the executive team, and we need to maintain growth, we don’t always focus on the perspectives and development of our staff.  

Handling difficult situations effectively, and collaboratively, is a hallmark of great leadership. No matter the size of your business, your team, partners, clients and customers will look to you for proactive, constructive responses to tough times and crisis situations.

As we each face our own unique challenges in the current climate, adding the five steps above to our decision-making processes can yield better outcomes, level up our leadership skills and foster even stronger ties with our teams and customers.

That’s a strategy that hope alone can’t compete with.