Today, we face a complex world with many problems and challenges to overcome. Some problems that we face are linear with clear answers to reach beneficial outcomes. However, most of life is messy. We face some wicked messes that have so many tangles and angles, resulting in difficult answers. This can be found to be relatable in different aspects of our own lives.
So, at a time when there are so many problems and messes, why would one want to accept the opportunity to lead? With all of the wicked messes, how can we be effective leaders? Ron Price from Price Associates confronted this question during his talk The Leader’s Journey: Finding your Way in a Complex World (link to the presentation slides). He made the argument that, in fact, this is the time to be a leader and to contribute to untangling the messes, and he described leaders as the people who see problems as opportunities for a better outcome.
To start, begin from the end. Great leaders start by leading themselves by acknowledging their own actions and beliefs. They take responsibility and accountability for their actions, whether good or bad, keeping in mind that everyone makes mistakes. This may mean learning to apologize for your mistakes especially if they influence others. Price said it perfectly with “you will never see the back of your own head.” You must be able to receive feedback to develop your own skills. But also, it is essential to follow through with what you say to ensure that you do not stop right before the finish line.
Great leaders not only acknowledge their own mistakes, but they also help those around them to revive themselves from their mistakes, too. In addition, leaders see the best version of people and the possibilities behind problems to reach a superior end goal. They see something greater and better in the end and view each problem as an opportunity to grow and improve. Inspiring those around them to be their best selves, leaders influence others by their character, expertise, and position.
This is easier said than done. How do you solve a problem, especially when it is a wicked mess? With all the complexity, make it simple and understand the following:
- There are bad systems, not bad people.
- Every person has a purpose and potential.
- An individual never exhausts their potential…they just stop trying.
- People want to do their best.
- Great organizations have people who are accountable and want their work to be judged in order to improve.
Some team members are going to believe the problem will always be a wicked mess. They may think that it has always been this way so how is it possibly going to change now? So how do you change beliefs? Well, start by understanding people’s beliefs and in the potential to change culture. Understanding how or why people feel a certain way can mean a lot. What would it be like to walk a mile in their shoes? People are influenced by past experiences. If someone feels negative about a new change, it may be due to a negative experience in the past. So, bring a new experience for the person to bring positive beliefs. Bring new experiences to your team and organization that show your character. See the hidden potential of people. Empower your team to continue to reach to fulfill their potential. Just knowing the amount you can accomplish as one person, imagine what a team can accomplish especially when a new problem opportunity presents itself.
It is important to acknowledge the work and people around you. Remind people about the positivity that comes from their work. It will help even out when something negative arrives that has to be confronted. It helps people understand that there are more positives than negatives.
If you are reading this and thinking, “How does this matter to me?” remember, leaders are not only those with a title. Leaders influence those around them, encouraging others to become better versions of themselves. Sometimes, career paths are not always up an organizational chart. Every person at every position can be a leader in a unique way.
In the end, it is important to view each problem as an opportunity for greater benefit. Leaders see this and influence those around them to solve this. Are you ready to be a leader? What will you make of a current opportunity in your life?
Kate Doherty, Research Data Coordinator for the Program for Patient Safety and Quality