ONE OF A LEADER’S JOB is to identify and solve problems. Too often, we address symptoms masked as the root cause of a problem.
It’s no wonder why leaders are spinning their wheels or feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of work. They make things complicated because they aren’t dealing with the truth. They spend a lot of time beating around the bush, avoiding conflict, and pointing fingers at others when they could commit to finding truth and not being satisfied with the symptom.
Examples: Symptom: Your team’s productivity is down. Truth: They’re emotionally exhausted and afraid, and to talk about it would be seen as a sign of weakness. Symptom; A leader on your team demands all decisions are made by her, which slows down work and decreases staff engagement. Truth: She feels the company will fail if she doesn’t protect it from risk, and if that happens, she’ll no longer be needed or valued.
According Dr. Alan Naspany who heads up the sports medicine program at the University of Idaho, “If you don’t feel better by describing the problem, we have NOT gotten to the truth.” Put in another way: Telling the truth feels good. Good problem-solving can only happen when we are addressing the truth.
To focus on truth versus symptoms, leaders should:
- Realize that avoiding the truth creates more issues and conflict,
- Add the ‘elephant in the room’ to meeting agendas,
- Ask five “why questions” to get to root cause. When someone provides an answer to a question, ask “why is that?” and keep repeating until root cause has been identified,
- Have the courage to be present and committed to telling and seeking the truth.