Finding a way to face a problem or difficult situation is a tough task in and of itself. If you do tackle a problem, you may not choose the correct solution, but the act of choosing and the learning that comes from experience help to build you up as a person and a leader.
EMTs, Police, Soldiers, and Firefighters have one important quality in common; they move towards a problem; they don’t run away from it. The person who is sick or bleeding, the EMT goes to give aid. The call over the radio of “shots fired”, the police run to restore order. The soldier who got caught by an explosion, another soldier heads in to pull them out of harm’s way. The fire that’s burning through buildings and threatening lives, the firefighter moves towards it to extinguish it.
What does this have to do with you working towards your goals?
Well, nothing superficially—unless you’re in one of those professions—but if you look at the principles of why these people do what they do, then it has everything to do with you.
You may not be rendering physical aid or extinguishing flames with water. But if you are running a company or working towards achieving a goal, the aid you render and the flames you extinguish come in the form of customers and personal perseverance.
If you are a leader of one or a leader of many, then it means you don’t have the luxury of running away from a problem. You will experience the constant choice of decisions, many of which you have never made before. Pretending they don’t exist or doing everything you can to avoid them will only make the problems multiply.
“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost
Responding to a problem that arises helps build mental muscle. And the fires you extinguish in the workplace or your personal endeavors give you the skills and confidence to face life at a five-alarm level when needed.
Some helpful things I do to find a way to face problems:
Don’t ignore it – A good friend of mine told me “don’t sit and ponder breakfast options; make breakfast.” And this is very sound advice, right up there with removing the bandage quickly, or jumping all the way into the cold water. Start working on whatever difficulty is in front of you, sometimes the difficulty is the anticipation of the problem more than the actual problem.
Parse the issue – If you look at the problem as a whole are there a few parts of it that can be removed and fixed quickly? It may not solve the whole issue but if it needs to be fixed regardless then getting part of the problem solved immediately will help get your feet wet for diving into the larger issue.
Find out if the problem is the problem – This is more subtle and requires you dissect the issue you are confronting. Is this a symptom of an underlying more urgent problem? Or, is this just a misunderstanding of directions? Maybe someone needs clarification they didn’t receive. Let’s say you ask Johnny to “be good”, and he thinks that means “be on your best behavior”. So Johnny explains that he can’t maintain a “good behavior”. However, what you meant is “Johnny, be good for the audience. Play that guitar as great as you possibly can, just like you’re ringing a bell.” Johnny can do that. So in fact, Johnny can be good. (I can’t possibly beat up this forced metaphor anymore. I love the song)
Write it out – Write down what you need to address, the key players, resources, worst-case and best-case scenarios, and what the goal of your resolution is. Also, be sure to write down why it’s a problem, this can help crystallize your focus. However, you may not solve it on the paper, but allowing your brain to transfer the information from your head to the paper will help to free up headspace and turn your analytical gears.
Make sure you’re the correct person to handle the problem – If I have a plumbing problem I don’t call a carpenter, I call a plumber. And the carpenter would be the first to tell you that over the phone when you call because your faucet is leaking. If there is an issue that needs resolution, don’t automatically take it upon yourself to fix it. If you’re not the expert on the problem, then connect with the person who is. You can ask to be appraised of the issue if it gets out of control or if it gets resolved, but bring it to the right person.
Additional point: This is one that will help overall and in the long-term.
Do one thing different every day – This guidance is written everywhere advice is given. It can be something new or scary, hang-gliding, swimming with sharks, or exercise (personal example). But it doesn’t have to be extreme or epic, it can be as simple as tricking yourself into figuring something out. Next time you hand cash to a cashier try to calculate the change before it pops up on the register display. Run your errands for the day without speaking. How about only using your phone every three hours at five-minute increments? Try anything that will disrupt your routines or habits without disrupting your life in a negative way. It will help you see the world differently, think with priority, and make parameter-based choices.
These steps will help you start building the confidence that allows you to deal with a problem or difficult situation. Continue to confront your challenges at work and with your goals without running away from them.
Find a way to make a decision, hard or easy, just make it.