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Leader's Digest: Focus on Solutions

From his days directing Missouri’s Christian Hospital EMS a decade ago to his current work as a consultant and development specialist, Chris Cebollero has learned enough about leadership to have written multiple successful books about it. This new series excerpts his Ultimate Leadership: 10 Rules for Success. For more see  

Rule #3: There Are No Problems, Just Solutions

As a leader I used to be guilty of pointing fingers. I’d be asking: “Who did that?” “Why did that happen?” “Who’s responsible for this kind of thing?” I eventually realized that for everything that happened throughout my leadership day, I only saw the problems. 

I’d be problem-focused all day long. “Quick, the ambulances have to get in for an inspection.” “Wait, we’d better take care of preventive maintenance or else they might break down, so we’ve got the two ambulances down.” “Great, we’re already crunched on the staff scheduling, and now we’ve got EMTs and paramedics who have called out sick.” I’d be thinking, How are we going to get the trucks on the street? Everything was a problem. Everything that occurred, I took on as being trouble. It wasn’t an effective way to lead or healthy for me personally. 

Problems vs. Challenges

A realization came to me as I was learning how to be an effective manager/leader, and as these problems were occurring, I didn’t even call them problems anymore. I called them challenges. We can overcome a challenge. A problem is just a negative word that doesn’t move us forward.  

As I addressed these problems as challenges, I became a more effective leader. I was almost waiting for challenges to happen so I could grow my leadership knowledge and expand my base of core knowledge. There are problems that happen in our workforce and organization every day. We need to be able to go through the steps of problem-solving and turn the things we see as challenges into solutions. Ultimately this grows our organization, which then grows our own leadership ability. 

When you’re developing a plan for problem-solving, make sure you get as many people involved as possible. This approach is a key to developing a problem-solving culture in your organization. Allow the group to help you manage the process. As these challenges occur, not only are you helping your organization, but you’re showing the future leaders coming up behind you that when these things occur, this is the problem-solving process and how you work together as a team to solve the problem. 

The Steps of Problem-Solving

1. Define the problem—The first component to solving the problem is to define what the problem is and how it affects processes. Develop the mentality of not assigning blame, but instead just addressing the problem. Find out why it occurred and over what period of time. 

2. Determine the root cause—Exactly what were the steps that occurred (or were missed) that caused the problem to come about? You might use a fishbone diagram, Pareto chart, DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) process, or create a “five whys” diagram. Find the one that works for you. 

3. Create possible solutions—Once you get to the point of understanding the problem, the timing, and why it occurred, create several possible solutions. These have to be based on facts on what you think the best result will be. Generate as many potential solutions as you can, relate each solution to what the specific problem was and the cause. Don’t forget to think about similar things that have happened in the past.

4. Choose the best solution—Choose what you think is the best decision to try but be ready to change tactics if this solution fails to meet the problem’s needs. What you come up with may fail, and that’s OK—go back to the drawing board and do it again. I don’t think we take that idea very well—we don’t like feeling like we’ve failed.

5. Implement the solution—Once you figure out what you’re going to do, you need to implement a solution. Get different people involved in this process. I have to ask myself as the leader, is this my responsibility to be the one to fix this up for somebody? It could be. But if I’m the one who directs a team to solve the problem, then I’m developing somebody’s critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. 

6. Evaluate the outcome—After you’ve implemented a solution, evaluate the outcome. One of the failures we have as leaders and organizations is that we’ll put something into place and just assume it went according to plan and everything is working out well. Instead, we’ve got to be able to ensure that we put an evaluation and monitoring process into this new solution.

Be Fully Accountable

You need to know the buck stops with you when it comes to accountability. You are ultimately responsible for the failures of the team. When they are successful as a team, ensure the team gets all the credit; when there are failures and mistakes, take all the blame and protect your workforce. 

Now, with that said, you still have to make certain you are holding your team accountable. Give them the opportunities to learn, grow, and gain the needed experience. When you are holding the workforce accountable, this begins the process of increasing wins in the organization. 

Don’t be an organization that doesn’t allow the workforce to take credit for success. I could sit with my feet up on the desk and make all the decisions. But what I want to be able to do is empower the people around me to be able to make decisions. It all starts with being fully accountable.   

Chris Cebollero, NRP, is a senior partner for Cebollero & Associates in St. Louis, Mo. He is a member of the EMS World editorial advisory board. 


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