Champion Leadership Tip #30 – Great Leaders Understand the Difference Between Problems & Decisions

Way back in 1994, during my first season as president/general manager of the Hudson Valley Renegades one of my assistant general managers who was in charge of our merchandise store, came to me early in our season and said,

“Skip, we have a problem!”

“OK, what’s the problem.”

“We’re out of ball cubes. We sold out of four cases already.”great leaders understand the difference between problems and decisions

(Balll cubes are the clear plastic casings that hold souvenir and autographed baseballs. At the time we bought them in cases of 36 and in our previous home, Erie, Pennsylvania where we attracting about 1/5 of the number of fans on a nightly basis, we would go through two cases per season.)

I said, “well, that’s not a problem, we just have to make a decision.”

She said, “what do you mean.”

I said, “a problem is when we don’t know the cause of a situation. Once we know the cause we can evaluate what decision we need to make to move the situation towards a positive resolution.”

In that situation we had 30 remaining home games, had just started our first season in a new stadium, plus ball cubes are a generic item that has no image printed on them, so we could order plenty and not worry if we have leftovers at the end our season, and so we did.

Anyway, I’ve found many times employees that lack confidence many times we quickly default to labelling situations as “problems” when, in fact, what they mean is that a “decision” needs to be made.

And, there is a huge difference between a “problem” and a “decision.”

Here are three guidelines that must obtain in order for a problem to exists. leaders at all levels must know these and be able to immediately re-frame situations as quickly as possible from problems to decisions:

  1. There is a discrepancy between what was expected to happen and what actually happened.
  2. The cause is unknown.
  3. It matters and you you care about it.

If those three conditons are met, you have a “problem” and the first step it to embark on a path to find the cause of the unexpected occurrence.

If #1 & #3 obtain then that means you know “cause” and so all you need to do is move towards a decision-making model to decide from among the options you have to move forward.

Stop defining decisions as problems and you will be seen as a leader who is in control and you will also be a leader who is outstanding a coaching and mentoring others to step up and take responsibility in similar situations.

If you would like to learn even more leadership strategies like this, visit The Leadership Series in which I discuss with Jim Smith, The Executive Happiness Coach, seven of the most important leadership strategies to create a high morale and high performing work environment.

Best Regards,

skip weisman, helping leaders motivate employees to improve organizational performance