Solving a problem is often a matter of perspective….
Some days leaders feel as though all we do is address problems other people have. It could be a personal problem, a problem with a program, someone on our team, or it could be a problem no one can even identify…just a problem. Leaders often serve the role of problem solvers.
It’s frustrating, as a leader, when we do our best to address a problem, but people still have a problem.
Ever been there?
That’s because fixing a problem…addressing the problem…doesn’t always solve the problem…at least in the mind of others. You see…solving a problem is often a matter of perspective.
I remember the time my family ate at a very popular chain restaurant in Chicago. I won’t tell you the name, but if I did you’ve probably heard of it. It’s a wonderful restaurant and people often stand in line for hours to eat there. We continue to patronize the restaurant today.
Anyway, my son ordered milk. I don’t know why…who orders milk at a restaurant? When they set the milk down on the table, my son, who is somewhat picky about certain things, noticed a huge fly floating in his glass of milk. He wouldn’t drink it!
We called the waiter over and showed him the fly. The waiter simply grabbed a spoon off the table, scooped the fly out of the glass of milk, and tossed the fly onto an empty plate on the table. With that he walked away…problem solved.
It was solved, right?
Seriously, this story remains funny to us today. In no way did we feel this problem was solved. It may have been fixed…there was no longer a fly in the milk, but the problem wasn’t solved. My son wanted a new glass of milk. I know…he’s picky. We decided we weren’t up for an argument and had made a funny memory together, so we simply ignored it, my son drank his water, and we left feeling as though we had an unresolved problem at our table.
Our server, on the other hand, felt he had fixed our problem, so everything was good…no fly…no problem. He never apologized or addressed it again, but continued serving us.
That story…as silly as it is…is a good reminder as a leader. Just because you fix a problem from your perspective, doesn’t mean you’ve solved the problem in the eyes of those you lead.
Solving a problem is often a matter of perspective.
Understanding this principle means a few things for me:
- As a leader, whether or not you’ve solved a problem…or even addressed it in some people’s eyes…may be based more on a person’s perspective, their personal interests or desires, and even their emotional investment at times, than it is on some measurable reality.
- I should keep trying to fix the problems I agree need fixing…just knowing I may not solve everyone’s concern with the problem. I can’t make everyone happy…as hard as I may try to solve their problems.
- More importantly, I should attempt to understand the real problem from other’s perspective and what solving that problem would even look like. At that point, I can determine whether I can truly solve the problem to their satisfaction. Sometimes I’ll be able to and sometimes not, but everyone should at least know what’s considered resolution to the problem. That keeps me from spending time and resources attempting to fix a problem I can never solve.
In the case of the milk, if the waiter had asked, “Do you want a new glass or should I just scoop the fly out?“…he would have learned how to move from fixing the problem to solving the problem from our perspective.
Have you ever tried to fix a problem but still experienced upset people? Please share your story to help others.