Happy New Year! My last post went up during the last week of 2020. That was a year we were all ready to have end, wasn’t it? It was so filled with challenges that people began to say, “It’s 2020” in response to any unusual or difficult thing that came up. 2020 was certainly filled with problems. It’s fitting, though I hadn’t thought about it at the time, that I wrote about a personal problem in my last post. Problems are inevitable regardless of the year (sorry, 2021 will have it’s share, too). Here’s an important truth about problems. Speaker, author, and leadership coach, John Maxwell, writes, “Problems introduce us to ourselves.” When I look into the mirror of a big problem who do I see reflected back at me? For example, let’s explore that in the form of three contrasted questions.
Am I a Victim or a Victor?
Another way to ask that is, “Am I a blamer or a tamer?” What’s my first instinct when a problem presents itself? Is it to find out who’s to blame? Is it to focus on how the problem is negatively affecting me? Or, is it to ask the question, “What do I need to do right now to overcome this barrier and achieve my desired outcome?”
The difference shows my attitude. Problems introduce us to our attitude. If you look up the word “attitude” you’ll see that it has to do with posture or position. In an airplane, for example, it refers to the relative position of the plane’s axes to a reference point like the horizon. When we think about mental attitude, it means our mental position or posture relative to a given situation. Think of it as am I curled up in a ball wondering “why me?” or standing squarely in the face of the problem ready to take it on.
Am I a Hothead or a Level head?
When I see my reflection in a big problem do I see steam coming out of my ears? Frustration is the feeling we get when we are being obstructed or impeded in our progress toward a goal. Obstruct and impede are synonyms of frustrate. It’s normal to feel it when our progress is being thwarted by something, especially if it’s something out of our immediate control. The question is how much control over me does that feeling have?
The difference between hothead and level head shows my emotion. Another way to look at it is by the effect of each. Think of it this way. Am I a tornado or a Zamboni? The difference between those is what they leave behind? A tornado passes over something beautiful and wrecks it. A Zamboni passes over something wrecked and makes it beautiful. Does my emotional response add to the problem or help put it in perspective.
I said that frustration comes when our progress is obstructed. But an obstruction in our path presents a couple of options. One is we learn how to overcome the obstruction which is a form of progress called growth. Another is we take another path that could lead us to a better destination than the original path. Even if it doesn’t, as long as we learn something, even failure is progress. With that in mind, we can be less frustrated because we can see progress possible no matter what.
Am I a problem spotter or a problem solver?
Any “Captain Obvious” can point out a problem. Even If the problem is less obvious or anticipated, the question becomes what am I going to do about it? Am I the kind of person who only spots problems and points them out, or am I the kind of person who takes action to solve the problem?
I was on a daily call yesterday with my team. At the end of the call I always go around the group and ask if there’s anything else on the topic. One caller spoke up. They said, “I was talking with my peer who told me about this anticipated problem. I put together these supplies they would need, should that situation arise, and delivered them.”
Another one of the callers said, “My concern is that if the customer does this, then that might happen.” The second caller was spotting a potential problem. The first caller learned about a potential problem and took action to solve it ahead of time.
The difference between spotter and solver shows me my action. Spotting problems is important, especially if they’re hard to see or they are potential problems that people aren’t thinking about. But solving problems is what leaders do.
We learn a lot about ourselves by how we face problems. We learn about our attitude, about our emotions, and about our action. But, guess what, if we learn, the problem has become an opportunity.