Leading Without Solutions

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Tough times surface tough dilemmas. Furthermore, complex systemic issues seldom have a simple solution. Recently I have encountered more than one extremely competent leader who has been reluctant to initiate discussion on an organizational issue because they do not yet have a “recommendation”. The operating assumption is that I do not go into a meeting to address a difficult problem unless I have a solution.

In one organization, for example, the Research budget is being shaved away, while Development is consuming inordinate amounts of resources on small incremental improvements on product already in the market. While there are indeed inherent issues that must be worked in terms of business strategy, meanwhile, redundancies and inefficiencies between these two functions are not being addressed. Neither one of these functional leaders can imagine how to engage in a productive conversation.

Abundant contradictions as well as conflicts increasingly characterize the shrinking world in which we live (e.g. protect resources/secure freedom; manage uncertainty/generate loyalty; push the message out fast/engage others). The “solutions” to such contradictions are not self-evident. Effective leaders nevertheless must work such contradictions without pre-conceived solutions.

Readiness to lead by engaging in powerful inquiry and skillful dialogue requires conscious suspension of our need to have “the answer” a priori.