The Problem with Problems

There is nothing a submariner fears more than a fire. A fire on a submarine is one of the most dangerous things that could ever happen on board. Smoke can quickly fill compartments and asphyxiate sailors. The heat and flames can spread to weapons, volatile materials, and critical systems creating devastating damage. A fire can quickly destroy a submarine if not extinguished immediately. That’s why every submariner is a trained firefighter. We were trained to ignore our natural instincts to move away from the fire and, instead, run towards the fire to put it out while it’s still small.

Imagine my surprise when I entered corporate America and discovered a different mindset. When a problem occurred, most people moved away from it. Many didn’t want to get involved, some hoped the problem would just go away on its own, and a few avoided the issue all together just to protect their careers. What was worse was to see managers ignoring obvious problems in their organization because they were afraid to make a tough decision.

The problem with problems, however, is that they are like fires. They don’t stay small. If ignored and left alone to smolder they grow in size and can cause catastrophic damage to a business. These problems might include a product failure, a customer complaint, a supplier quality issue, a change in the market landscape, new technology, an employee situation, or any number of challenges that businesses face each day. These problems start off small but can grow if not addressed quickly.

As leaders, we have to ignore our natural instincts to move away from problems. Our employees are counting on us. They are looking to us to lead the effort to attack these issues with tenacity. How we respond to these challenges will set the tone for the rest of the organization.

There is a universal truth about problems and fires. The longer it takes to attack them, the larger they get. Almost every significant issue an organization faces was once a smaller problem that could have been resolved in the early stages.

What are the problems your organization is facing today? Are you running towards those challenges or away?

As leaders, we need to run towards the fire.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

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