A graphic showing a problem connected to question marks reading who, what, where, when, why, which, whom, how.

Problems keep mounting so fast that we find ourselves taking short-cuts to temporarily alleviate the tension points — so we can move onto the next problem.

Whether you're solving a problem for a client (internal or external), supporting those who are solving problems, or discovering new problems to solve, the problems you face can be large or small, simple or complex, and easy or difficult.

Problem solving is the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution. Problem solving is the essence of what leaders exist to do.

The Problem Solving Process

Flaticon Icon 1. Define the problem

  • Differentiate fact from opinion

  • Specify underlying causes

  • State the problem specifically

  • Identify what standard or expectation is violated

  • Determine in which process the problem lies

  • Avoid trying to solve the problem without data

Flaticon Icon 2. Generate alternative solutions

  • Postpone evaluating alternatives initially

  • Include all involved individuals in the generating of alternatives

  • Specify alternatives consistent with organizational goals

  • Specify short- and long-term alternatives

  • Brainstorm on others' ideas

  • Seek alternatives that may solve the problem

Flaticon Icon 3. Evaluate and select an alternative

  • Evaluate alternatives relative to a target standard

  • Evaluate all alternatives without bias

  • Evaluate alternatives relative to established goals

  • Evaluate both proven and possible outcomes

  • State the selected alternative explicitly

Flaticon Icon 4. Implement solution & follow up

  • Plan and implement a pilot test of the chosen alternative

  • Gather feedback from all affected parties and seek acceptance or consensus

  • Establish ongoing measures and monitoring

  • Evaluate long-term results based on end solution


When it comes to problem solving, for the first step of defining the problem, how do you find out what caused it?

Most Effective Ways Leaders Solve Problems

A person saying to another,

As leaders, the goal is to minimize the occurrence of problems.

  1. Transparent Communication: Effective communication towards problem solving happens because of a leader’s ability to facilitate an open dialogue between people who trust their intentions and feel they are in a safe environment to share why they believe the problem happened as well as specific solutions.

  2. Break Down Silos: Organizational silos are the root cause of most workplace problems and are why many of them never get resolved.

  3. Open-minded People: Open-minded people see beyond the obvious details before them and view risk as their best friend. They tackle problems head-on and get on with the business of driving growth and innovation.

  4. A Solid Foundational Strategy: Without strategy, change is merely substitution, not evolution. A solid strategy must be implemented in order to solve any problem.

Take Action

The Daily Show Lol GIF by The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue, coming up with solutions, implementing those solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness. 


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