Before jumping to a solution, get clear on the problem you’re facing, brainstorm more than two options and bring in stakeholders to help you explore all the angles you may have missed, writes Suzi McAlpine. “All of us stand to benefit from getting crystal clear on what we’re working to solve, opening up more options and possibilities and varying our perspective,” McAlpine writes.



You might have encountered a big, strategic problem like how do we ensure our business is futureproofed when it comes to workforce numbers and skills? Perhaps it’s something more tactical, like how to have that tough conversation with your team member this afternoon about their performance gap.

Either way, solving problems is part of your job description as a leader.


So, how can you get better at it?

Here are three simple yet practical ways to approach your next leadership problem.


1: Define the real problem.

In other words, don’t rush to solutions until you’re super clear on the actual problem you’re trying to solve. This seems blindingly obvious. But often, the first time an issue presents itself, it’s a surface symptom of a deeper problem. Or, if you’re solving the problem as a team, sometimes not everyone is on the same page as to what you’re even talking about in the first place.

I get it. Leaders love action. And there’s often subliminal yet powerful pressure on leaders to move at pace. Time is money and all that.

But often when I’m working with leaders, whether it be an executive team or in an executive coaching conversation, I notice a tendency to spend insufficient time exploring the issue or getting clear on the real problem.

We often skim over problem identification (and its cousin: identifying what success looks like if we solve it) and instead jump too quickly into generating ideas to solve what we think is the problem. You can end up missing key data points or, worse, just coming up with the wrong solution entirely.