Pressured To Decide Quickly And Go With The First Solution? - Learn How to Think Through Solutions

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Solving complex problems requires time, and it’s unlikely that the first solution that comes to mind is the right one. That’s why thinking through solutions is such an important leadership skill. As a leader, you face many problems on a daily basis, and it can be difficult to devote time and energy to finding the best solution to every problem, even when you have done your research. This skill enables you to consider all your options and ensures that you don’t just settle on the first solution that comes to mind or make a reactive decision out of frustration. Such reactive decision-making often results in ineffective solutions that only address superficial issues and leave the underlying problems unresolved.

Thinking through solutions means collecting and integrating multiple pieces of data; researching a problem to understand it fully is the first step in an effective problem-solving process. In our extensive research and testing of nearly 800 executives for my bestselling book THE LEADER HABIT, my team and I discovered the micro-behaviors that effective leaders do when they think through solutions. They:

1.     Brainstorm multiple solutions to the problem, not just one.

2.     Identify advantages and disadvantages of solutions and critically evaluate their feasibility.

3.     Identify the criteria you will use to select the best solution by clearly stating what the characteristics of the ideal solution are and what the solution needs to achieve.

Once you understand that these behaviors are the key to thinking through solutions, you will need to internalize them for yourself, turning them into habits. Based on our finding that it takes 66 days to turn a behavior into a habit, we have created four simple exercises that will help you improve your ability to think through solutions. They are:

Exercise #1: Brainstorm multiple solutions.

Make a habit of considering multiple solutions by practicing this exercise: After proposing a course of action (in an email or a meeting), list two alternatives you have considered by saying, “I settled on … after considering a few other options, such as ... and …” Write down the sentence. For example, you may say, “I settled on weekly one-on-one check-ins after considering several options, such as team meetings and group training sessions.”

Exercise #2: Identify the advantages and disadvantages of a solution. 

Make a habit of communicating to others that you have considered the limitations of a course of action, not just how it addresses the problem you are trying to solve: After proposing an idea to someone, state one advantage and one limitation of your idea by saying, “I think that we should …; it will help us with …, but it will not …” Write down the sentence. For example, you could say, “I think we should ask our employees how to improve our product; it will help us with their buy-in, but it will not get us customer feedback.”

Exercise #3: Define the ideal solution.

This micro-behavior requires having clear criteria for evaluating possible solutions to a problem. You can define the ideal solution by listing its different characteristics: After realizing that you have a problem to solve, write down two or three bullet points of what the ideal solution should look like. For example, “We need a plan that is easy to implement, accessible to everyone, and flexible in scope.” 

At work, thinking through solutions is important to the same leadership challenges as the skill Analyze Information: implementing new systems and processes, improving efficiency of operations, and combining and restructuring business units, just to name a few. After conducting a thorough analysis of a problem, you must generate many possible solutions and evaluate them against set criteria before deciding which is the best course of action; you cannot just go with the first solution that comes to mind. You have many options on how to redesign workflow processes or restructure business units, and each option has its advantages and limitations. As a leader, you need to be aware of your options and their shortcomings. Having a clear set of criteria of what constitutes the ideal solution will ensure that you select the right course of action for your people and teams.

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