Tackling issues requires different — and often multiple — leadership approaches. The complexity of the situation will dictate the response. While routine problems are generally solved through experience and expertise, complex issues tend to be tackled more effectively with innovative solutions.

Ronald Heifetz, Harvard professor and co-founder of its Center for Public Leadership, encourages leaders to:
  • Openly acknowledge the complexity of the issues head on, without attempting to minimize the difficulties involved. Research has found that ignoring or oversimplifying complex challenges does not work.
  • Avoid authoritative (top-down) solutions. Shift responsibility for problems from the leader to the primary stakeholders.
  • Consider how individuals’ differing values influence their views and behaviors. This is not a “right” or “wrong” analysis. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that as everyone views situations differently, buy-in necessitates a multi-pronged approach.

Consider the challenges that you are facing. What is and is not working? Map it out. Think about how you are communicating with your teams. Heifetz suggests those who are cognizant of and incorporate the concepts above manage more effectively. Try these five tips for when the going gets tough:

  1. Confront the problem. Don’t dodge the issue. Acknowledge it openly.
  2. Reject absolutes. Get comfortable with the idea that there is no “right” answer.
  3. Avoid expressions of power or dominance. Promote and encourage an atmosphere in your teams that is conducive to cooperative thought and execution.
  4. Celebrate differences. Acknowledge that differences are vital to a full appreciation of issues and their most effective resolution.
  5. Recognize your own built-in bias. No one person’s ideas will ever represent an absolute truth — and that includes you.

There is no one way to get a difficult job done – quite the contrary. Elicit the best performance possible in an environment that rewards innovation and cooperation as a means to solid team results. But should things turn sour, and a complex problem become a “crisis”, take the STOP approach to begin turning your issue around.

Nina Nets It Out: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good [people] to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt. Make an assessment of your teams. Try implementing some of the ideas above in those areas needing improvement, and see if more ownership and innovation ensue.