Every solution has a problem

Most parents take the view that problems are good for children. Problems teach children how to deal with life, how to fix things up, how to become more resilient, self-sufficient and self-confident. Problems help children to see themselves as problem solvers, not hapless, helpless victims.

What happens when you’re faced with a problem? Do you rub your hands and say ‘Oh, wonderful! A chance to take charge and exercise my brain to figure out how to solve it!‘ I don’t know too many adults like that. Somehow, what we see as a growth opportunity for kids doesn’t translate into adulthood.

Instead of welcoming problems and thinking: ‘I’m confident I can fix this up‘, we ignore them, put them to one side to deal with later, or foist them onto someone else to fix up. We might take them home with us and let them spoil our leisure time and turn our sweet dreams sour, but that doesn’t fix them.

Every solution has a problem. One goes with the other, just like steak and chips. As M Scott Peck says in The Road Less Travelled:

Problems call forth our wisdom and our courage.

When we let them.

But  when we let them tie us up in knots, problems paralyse us. Our brains freeze, we can’t think our way clearly through them, and we become ‘stuck’ and frustrated.

This is not a good game plan. Much better is to face up to a problem, look it in the eye, and, knowing we have the smarts and the strength to solve it, get started looking for a solution.

Discussion questions

Think back through the last few problems you’ve solved and messes you’ve fixed up: what did they teach you? How did they help you grow and mature as a manger?


Are you a good meeting participant?

Meetings can waste enormous amounts of time, often with nothing to show for them except a roomful of warm, stale air. But they need not be that way. The more meetings you attend, the more you need to know how to make them work.

First, do any preparation work you need to do. This might be a bit of pre-reading of documents or thinking your way through the agenda and what contributions you can make on the various items. Or it might be making sure you’ve done any assigned tasks from the previous meeting. Whatever it is, don’t blow your credibility by turning up unprepared.

Or by turning up late. Always be on time for meetings because when you hold up the meeting, you’re wasting everyone else’s valuable – and expensive – time, and that’s thoughtless and rude.

Speak up when you have something to contribute but don’t take up more than your fair share of the speaking time or waste time with personal stories, jokes or anecdotes unless they make a point. Look around the table as you speak, making a few seconds eye contact with each person, and when you want to disagree with or build on something someone else has said, quickly re-cap it first. If people have a habit of talking over you, you can pre-empt this by saying something like ‘I have two points I’d like to make about this.’ Or if they do interrupt, you can keep the floor by saying something like ‘I haven’t quite finished, Sam, and continue with what you were saying.

And here are two don’ts: Don’t hold side conversations. And don’t disagree with something unless you have an alternative to offer.

Discussion questions

What do meeting participants do that you appreciate? What do they do that annoys you? Are you polishing or tarnishing your reputation and personal brand by your meeting behaviour?

Can you praise without patronising?

Praise is like sunlight to the human spirit; people can’t flower and grow without it. Praise releases neuro-peptides, our ‘natural opiates’, and endorphins, the brain’s ‘feel good’ chemicals. That’s why it’s so nice to receive a genuine compliment.

Interestingly, paying a compliment also releases neuro-peptides and endorphins, so giving a compliment makes us feel almost as good as receiving one!

Here’s how pay a compliment so you’ll feel great and so will the people around you:

  • Focus on things the person has some control over. That means your comments aren’t empty flattery. Flattery focuses on things people have little or no control over, like listening to a customer’s complaint, while genuine praise concerns something a person does, like how well they’ve dealt with a thorny customer problem.
  • Another way to give a great compliment is to give reasons, to say what you like and why. This is a great way to praise because it lets the person know what to take the time and trouble to do again.
  • Make sure your compliment is sincere, too. Did you know that we have 100 billion brain cells, and 10 billion of them are ‘lie detectors’? People quickly sense false praise.

People like us and trust us for how we make them feel. Praise is a wonderful way to make people feel great and build strong working relationships.

Discussion questions

When was the last time you praised a colleague or a member of your work team?

Leadership Australian style

I’m excited to present our first guest blogger, David Davenport, who is a director of MetaSkill Consulting, a registered training organisation that provides training and consulting services in Australia and the Middle East. Enjoy!

Kris tells me she is including some new material on Australian leadership styles in the forthcoming, 6th, edition of Management Theory and Practice. I must say, I was initially sceptical! Two of our most prominent corporate leaders were just on TV engaged in a public biffo! My thoughts then ran to scare campaigns, a reactive blaming culture, attacking the person never the message, employees ensuring plausible deniability for their leaders and leaders replacing thinking skills with slogans…

But wait–is this really us? You can clearly see how distinctive the Australian leadership style is when you work overseas. I saw it for myself when working in the Middle East for seven years. It was a great opportunity to compare Aussie leadership with the leadership style of local leaders and ex-pats from other countries living there.

It was evident that Australians generally, and Australian leaders in particular, were recognised to be hard working, to not stand on ceremony, and to be highly professional and competent. People knew we would get the job done–no excuses. We were forthright and showed respect and consideration to people whatever their perceived social status.

As far back as WWI, our officers earned their respect; it wasn’t handed to them on a platter. Our leaders still need to earn respect. Perhaps this goes back to our egalitarian roots.

What will the next edition of Cole Management tell us is the Australian leadership style? At least I hope we can all agree that public brawling is an aberration, not the norm, for our corporate leaders!

Discussion questions

Are we as egalitarian as we like to think? Love to hear your thoughts on whether there is a distinctive Australian leadership style and if so, what are its characteristics.

How to listen between the lines

How do you rate your listening skills? If you haven’t given yourself 10 out of 10 for listening (and be honest–who can?!) read on.

We often think we’re listening properly, but sadly, that’s seldom the case. One of the main causes of poor listening is that we can think a lot more quickly (about 7 times, in fact) than most people speak, which gives us time to daydream, think about what we’re going to say, or mentally criticise the person who’s speaking or their message. Putting all this free mental time to good use will help you become a better listener.

That’s where TING, the Chinese word for listen, comes in. It’s made up of four characters, the heart, the mind, the ears, and the eyes. Listening with your heart, mind and eyes, as well as your ears, helps you pay attention to what’s being said and how it’s being said, so you don’t merely hear, but really understand, what another person is saying.

  • Vague words: When you hear a fuzzy word, like ‘soon’ or ‘good’ for instance, ask a question to find out more about what is meant.Yes, I’ll get it to you soon. Can you commit to providing it by Friday morning? I need it by then so that I can take our project to the next stage. (This will help you keep to your timelines and put a stop to empty promises.)
  • Generalisations: When you hear a sweeping, all-encompassing word like ‘always’ or ‘never’, keep listening and asking questions until you understand what the other person really means.

    You’re always picking on me! 
    You think I’m harder on you than on the rest of the team. (This invites the speaker to provide their evidence without challenging them and starting an argument.)
  • Comparisons: When you hear one situation or event compared or contrasted to another, find out more: ‘In what way better?’, ‘In what way easier?’ Similarly, when you hear a word that implies a comparison, like ‘better than’, ‘worst’ or ‘easiest’, check it out. ‘Better than what?’ ‘Worse than what?’ ‘Easier than what?’This job is so much better than my last one! What makes it better?

    This is the worst job I’ve ever had! What in particular makes this job so bad? (This will gather some valuable information.)

  • Unspoken rules, like ‘have to’, ‘should’, ‘must’ or ‘can’t’ are usually worth exploring, too. ‘Why must we?’ ‘What happens if we don’t?’We can’t do it that way. Is there a reason why we can’t other than precedence? What might happen if we did this differently? (This helps you explore what the rule enforcer is thinking.)

Now you’re listening with your mind as well as your ears. And now for listening with your heart and eyes.

  • Listen with your heart by mentally putting yourself in the other person’s ‘shoes’; as you listen, and try to understand what it is really like from where they stand.
  • Finally, listen with your eyes by observing the other person’s body language and movements and watching for sudden changes. Body language never fails to reveal something interesting.

TING makes sure you really hone in on what the other person is saying. It has another benefit, too: it also shows people you’re really trying to understand their viewpoint. This alone makes them more willing to express themselves fully and say what’s really on their mind. Listening well encourages people to open up and it builds mutual understanding and relationships.

Discussion questions

Could you us Ting to raise your listening score, manage better and strengthen your working relationships?

Do you tap into your intuition?

You’re literally flooded with in information, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most of it bypasses your conscious awareness but imbeds itself in your subconscious, just in case you need it. You pick up on people’s body language, on that loose railing along the stairs, and on the oily smell coming from the car when you stop.

Ally your senses – hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch – are powerful receptors, able to retrieve huge amounts of information, every second, and send it through your nervous system to your brain, which stores it away for possible future use.

Whether this information is able to percolate up to your conscious awareness depends on two things: whether you are receptive to it in the first place, and whether your ‘mental chatter’  allows you to receive it.

Here’s a quick way you can tap into the information stored away in your subconscious. The next time you have an either-or type of decision to make, like to re-organise your team, or delegate a task to a team member, or commence performance counselling with a long-term employee, grab a coin. Assign one of the choices to heads and the other to tails. Flip the coin. Which one comes up? Listen to your gut feel – are you happy with what came up or not?

You don’t have to go with it if you don’t want to! Just use this as a way to tap into your true feelings.

Discussion questions

Do you think this might work for you? What other ways do you use to tap into your subconscious store of knowledge and information?