Tuesday, April 27, 2010

First Time - Part 22: No Whining, Just Solutions

This is part 22 of in a series of short essays on fundamentals of leadership. While it is drafted for those who have just moved into their first leadership position, I hope there is a little something in here for the most practiced of leaders, a ‘getting back to basics’ that everyone needs every now and then.

We all have troubles, but no one really wants to hear about yours. That is an unpleasant reality.

If you are like me or most people I know, it grates on you when you hear some politician or purported leader stand up and talk about how tough things are and all the problems he has to deal with. The fact is that he was probably elected because he promised he would fix things. And the electorate knows much better then he just how tough things are. So, he should spend his time talking about fixing things not about how hard it is.

Well, it goes double for you. Your boss put you in the position you are in because he thought you could make things better. The boss (and the boss’s boss) already knows the issues and problems. In fact, they may know more about them then you do. And they certainly have more problems then you do, as they have all of your problems plus others from other departments. So, your whining usually doesn’t inform them in the least.

But whining does send a signal, one you never want associated with your name: that you complain.

On the other hand, having problems can be considered an opportunity.

A number of years ago a friend of mine became the captain of a ship, a ship that had some mechanical and maintenance ‘issues,’ but certainly not more then many other ships. It was in ‘average’ condition. The ship went into a shipyard for routine maintenance, but several weeks after arriving the workers in the yard went on strike. For those of you who are fortunate enough to have never been on a ship while it is in a shipyard, when a ship enters a shipyard for major work, the first thing that happens is that the ship appears to be attacked by army ants, who swarm aboard and disassemble seemingly everything, leaving the ship without water, electricity, lighting, heat, or air-conditioning, as well as often leaving gaping holes in the hull. In Ed’s case his ship was not only partially disassembled, it was now – due to the strike - apparently indefinitely stranded.

My friend could have whined. He didn’t. He also could have decided that he was just the same as everyone else and just sit and wait for a solution to appear, as if from the heavens. He didn’t do that either. Instead, he devised a plan to use his crew to perform the bulk of the work, and then asked the Navy to temporarily assign him a few key personnel with the necessary skills to complete all the work needed on the ship. He was able to show that he could complete the ship’s maintenance on time, and within budget, despite the shipyard strike. He offered a plan that actually got rid of a problem for the Navy. The Navy agreed and he actually brought the ship out of the yard ahead of schedule.

Other captains could have (and did) whine and complain; Ed didn’t. Instead, he made ‘lemonade from lemons.’

Everyone has problems; everyone has it hard. No one really wants to hear about the someone else’s problems. But everyone wants to hear about solutions. Whining solves nothing. But if you can come up with a solution to the problem you will get the kind of attention everyone wants. So, when you realize you have a real problem, take a few minutes (or hours, even days) and think about the problem and how you would fix it. Ask yourself this simple question: If I owned the whole company (or, if you work in the Police Department or the Fire Department, etc., If I were the Mayor), what would I want done? How would I like this solved? Bounce your ideas off a trusted friend or two, see what they think. Then, package it up, in a simple, clear, package – don’t worry about making it pretty – and go to the boss. Make sure your solution addresses the fundamentals: how long will it take, how much will it cost, and how many people do you need. And show how your solution leaves the whole organization better then it was before your problem arose.

If you have a halfway decent boss, he is going to be overjoyed with what you gave him.

So, remember: no whining, just solutions.

As the US Marines say: Stop Global Whining


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