In my first leadership role, I was promoted from among a team of automobile software engineers.
I was thrilled! Not just thrilled to have a leadership title, but thrilled for the opportunities it came with – thrilled for the chance to exercise some of my strengths, and to serve my team in ways I could not before.
There was only one problem…
I was promoted from among my team. So they went from being my coworkers to being my downline overnight. They had to report to me, but they were my friends. The way they saw it, the only difference in my role was that now, I worked in an office instead of in the workshop.
When I asked them for project updates, they would just laugh and wave me away. “Don’t play boss with us, Florin!”
I could never imagine saying this to my boss! But more importantly, I could never imagine saying this to someone who had influence with me. I had enjoyed working on the team, but camaraderie and influence do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.
This can be a difficult balance to strike among leaders.
Developing a relationship with one’s team is fundamental to their leadership. After all, there is no influence without relationship, and as leadership expert John Maxwell says,
“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”
But on the other side of the spectrum, a leader cannot simply be everyone’s best friend. Leadership mandates a level of accountability.
It was clear that my new title did not come with influence, and I could not demand it – so I could have to earn it.
How? By problem-solving.
When my team had something to say, I listened. If they complained, I leant in. I took notes. I went back to my own upline and became my team’s advocate, using my new leadership leverage to solve their problems wherever I could.
And once my team knew that I had not only the authority, but also the desire, to make their jobs easier, they began to respond to me differently. They no longer thought I was “playing boss” – they saw me as their leader.
Problem-solving is the fastest way I know to gain influence. In one motion, it demonstrates…
- Awareness – you saw the problem or you listened when someone told you about it.
- Care – you knew something was affecting someone else and wanted to assist.
- Initiative – you saw a need and fulfilled it.
- Resourcefulness – you applied a unique solution to a situation where one was needed.
And what’s better – problem-solving not only creates influence, but doubles as a boost to performance and productivity. The more problems you are able to solve, the fewer things preventing your people from fulfilling their professional potential.
If problem-solving is an area in which you’re trying to grow, try assessing some problems from a new perspective:
- Write the problem down (with a pen and paper – not on your computer). Use as much detail as you can, including how you feel about the problem and any related concerns you have. This externalizes the problem – or in other words, it allows you to see the problem as separate from yourself. It also helps you view the problem as more of a third-party, making it easier to spot assumptions, insecurities, or faulty conclusions complicating the situation.
- Draw on your past experiences, resourcefulness, and creativity. Consider what you have learned in similar situations in the past. If a friend came to you with this same problem, how would you advise them based on your own lived wisdom? And what do you have at your disposal that could provide a solution?
- Write down what the problem looks like solved. Sometimes, seeing the destination clears the path. It is much easier to solve a problem when you have a clear mental image of what you are working toward. Plus, it offers you the opportunity to “reverse engineer” a solution.
- Trust and have faith in yourself. Whether you are a leader in position or in practice, you are in the spot of leadership for a reason. You have proven your mettle. You are more than adequately equipped to face the demands of your role.
I believe it – and so should you!
That’s all for now,
P.S. Want to learn more about problem-solving and leadership? Leading on Mondays
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