Problem-Solving Cultures:
Innovative, or Toxic?

Having a problem-solving leader at the helm of an organization has its advantages: they are highly adept at spotting potential issues and unafraid to ask the questions no else wants to address. But not all of the employees I speak with agree. Working in a problem-solving culture can be toxic, pushing people beyond their breaking points.

When this topic comes up in our conversations, we discuss how our ability to thrive (and sometimes, survive) depends on understanding how a problem-solver thinks and feels.

Troubleshooters feel threatened when things go wrong and problems have no readily apparent solutions. They fear their analytical skills—and, by extension, they themselves—are inadequate. A loss of control over circumstances adds hopelessness to the mix.

Many problem solvers deal with their insecurities by fixing things and bringing order to their world. Their mindset is fairly concrete: Everything needs to be fixed. Trouble lurks around every corner and must be snuffed out. These leaders have an innate protection mode.

Problem solvers rarely recognize their fears or desperate need to feel safe, but they’re keenly aware of their preparedness. They’re always ready to dissect problems methodically. They pride themselves on their diligence.

Troubleshooting leaders are often the odd one out, taking a minority view. They notice how few of their colleagues grasp their insights, which empowers them. Their research often leads to predictions, which take the form of warnings to heed their advice. Setting themselves apart from others affirms their belief that their contributions are important.

Problem solvers revel in hard data. They dismiss others’ intuition as inferior to facts. Gut feelings are deemed inappropriate and risky. They require a high level of certainty. But when data are hard to obtain or seem misleading, these leaders struggle to make decisions. Pulling the trigger without enough assurance seems riskier than doing nothing. Appealing to their common sense proves fruitless.

Over-analysis is never a problem for obsessive troubleshooters—the more, the better. Extended analysis may uncover other problems—an effective bonus in the war against trouble. Discovering hidden problems is a delightful find for them, akin to uncovering a treasure no one else has spotted.

Problem solvers have trouble taking criticism, which they view as a roadblock to progress or a detriment to morale. But they often accept it as the price to pay for fulfilling their role as protector of the people. Criticism would be far worse if their careful analysis failed to catch problems.

When working with problem solvers it’s helpful to understand their perspective and appreciate their gifts of discernment and analysis. Know that they don’t intentionally bog things down with their hyper-focus. Their goals are honorable, though they may pursue them in disruptive ways.

What do you think? How do you navigate a problem-solving culture? I’d love to hear from you. You can call me at 704-827-4474; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here, or on LinkedIn.

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