Chapter Essential Skills For Leaders Creative Problem Solving


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CHAPTER 3

ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR LEADERS: CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING

ABSTRACT
A strong leader must have the capacity and skills to anticipate, identify, solve, prevent, and learn from problems that occur in the work environment. Creative problem- solving skills require positive processes that incorporate strong communication skills, respect for all parties involved, and innovative approaches. When problems are viewed as "opportunities," the benefits for both leaders and staff can be highly positive.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the following concepts:
C Qualities of good problem solvers. C Positive communication skills and techniques that enhance problem solving. C Practical approaches to creative problem solving. C How do deal with difficult staff in problem situations.

INTRODUCTION

We are bogged down. We keep going over the same old ideas. We desperately need a

new approach . . .

CEdward DeBono in Six Thinking Hats

Problems arise in any group or organization. The question is: What does a leader do with those problems? A leader can either react to problems and the resulting change or look ahead and visualize the future with creative problem solving. Effective leaders anticipate change and learn how to facilitate and manage it. A leader does not have to wait until problems come to him/her. Good leaders know to seek solutions before the problems land on the doorstep. "Individuals who get startled by the future," says Gary Hamel (2000), "weren’t paying attention."

In Leading the Revolution, Hamel (2000) says, "You can, and must, regain your lost curiosity. Learn to see again with eyes undimmed by precedent." When leaders allow their assumptions and value judgments to get in the way, they stifle their own creativity and find themselves thinking predictable thoughts. In Quantum Creativity, Pamela Meyer (2000) states "Judgment paralyzes. Abstaining from judgment removes the obstacles to the natural and passionate flow

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of your creativity. To free yourself of these chains, you need to fiercely confront your learned blocks."
When work is all-consuming, it is easy to lose perspective on the future and how to make it better. Keeping an open mind can be difficult when one works in a Crime Victim’s Unit and has to respond to victims’ immediate and crucial needs every hour. When a claims specialist with a victim compensation program must produce a certain number of claims per day, creativity may be the last thing on his/her mind. However, it is certain that whatever the individual is doing now will eventually change for one reason or another. Maybe claims aren’t being produced fast enough to keep up with the demand, or perhaps more indictments each month result in more crime victims needing notification. New problems face leaders daily; the choice is either to be overwhelmed or to make solving the problems meaningful.
The way to handle change is to problem solve creativelyCto be open to new possibilities and avenues that may not, at first, even seem plausible. "Thinking outside the box" may now be old news. Hamel (2000) says the leader should throw the box away altogether. Innovation is more than coming up with new ideas or assembling a creative business plan or a creative approach to a problem. Innovation is learning to see what is not obvious, developing a sixth sense for change, and being totally open to new thoughts and unconventional ideas.
Edward DeBono (1985), in Six Thinking Hats, states the concept simply: "We need creativity because nothing else has worked. We need creativity because we feel that things could be done in a simpler or better way. The urge to do things in a better way should be the background to all our thinking." He goes on to say that "there are times, however, when we need to use creativity in a deliberate and focused manner. It may be necessary to put forward provocative ideas that are deliberately illogical."
Unfortunately, leaders often find themselves surrounded by staff who may be complacent and comfortable with the procedures that are currently in place. The need to produce more work in a smarter, faster way is sometimes not the priority of the staff. Sometimes the priority of the staff is maintaining the status quo. Leadership then has to be not only innovative in solving the problem at hand but also creative in how s/he helps the staff to adjust to the new procedure.
Helping the staff to become comfortable and also to "own" the new procedures takes a great deal of energy, time, and finesse. Although in some businesses and organizations, this process may not work, in most, it will be advantageous to have the staff participate in the problem solving. Staff members, like crime victims, want to be heard. Most staff members do not expect nor demand to set policies or solve problems themselves. Usually they just want input and are most often understanding of the fact that management will consider their opinions, but not necessarily adopt them. However, if staff members are never consulted and their input is never considered, morale decreases and the feeling of working in a dictatorship begins to prevail.
It is also important to note that staff members themselves, if helped to tap their creativity, can be the best problem solvers since they are usually the ones doing the majority of the work.

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They know the techniques, how long processes take, the types of interferences they usually experience, and all the other issues surrounding the jobs they do every day. However, when they are asked to become involved in the problem-solving process, it is oftentimes difficult for management to refrain from identifying barriers to each solution. Good leaders can help the creative juices begin to flow through themselves and their staff members by using certain techniques, as described below.
QUALITIES OF GOOD PROBLEM SOLVERS
In his book, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow, John C. Maxwell (1999) describes the five qualities of leaders with good problem-solving ability. TheyC
C Anticipate problems. Problems are inevitable and good leaders anticipate them. Have a positive attitude but plan for the worst.
C Accept the truth. Denying problems only prolongs the agony. Be willing to look at the issues honestly, accept responsibility, and move forward.
C See the big picture. Have a vision of the future and be able to see where the organization can be in five or ten years. Do not be overwhelmed by emotion or bogged down with details. Have someone trustworthy ferret out the details.
C Handle one problem at a time. Eat the elephant one bite at a time. C Don’t give up on a major goal when they’re down. See life as a roller coasterCsometimes
up and sometimes down. Don’t give up on the vision just because some glitches occurred.
A significant key to creative problem solving is the capacity and willingness to view problems or challenges from a new perspective and to seek innovation in exploring potential options.
TECHNIQUES FOR INNOVATION Gary Hamel (2000) lists seven tips for becoming more innovative and regaining curiosity:
C Be a novelty addict. C Find the discontinuities. C Search out under-appreciated trends. C Find the big story. C Follow the chain of consequences. C Dig deeper. C Know what’s not changing.

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Pamela Meyer (2000) extols the virtues of intuition as a way to become innovative. While many discount intuition for the more preferred logic, Meyer reminds us to get back in touch with our natural curiosity and allow ourselves to restore a "lively awareness of possibilities." Edward McCraken, Chief Executive Officer of Silicon Graphics, says, "The most important trait of a good leader is knowing who you are. In our industry very often we don’t have time to think. You have to do all your homework, but then you have to go with your intuition without letting your mind get in the way." In order to treat intuition with respect, a leader must first learn to listen to it. Sometimes that small voice is trying to tell the leader something, but s/he is ignoring it. It is imperative that leaders learn to listen.
The more respected an individual is in his/her field, the more resistant s/he may be to listening. Formal education, research, experience gained from working for years, and information gathered from meetings and conferences all help when making decisions. But the most important information comes from within. Innovation needs an open door and an open mind.

PROBLEMS AS OPPORTUNITIES
Good leaders start with a plan and know that they need to be willing to throw that plan out at any time in response to a new discovery or idea. Life is full of changes that don’t fit into the plan. A leader must be willing to dance with the change. If the leader resists it, the change will still persist in one way or another.
Viewing the problem as an opportunity to create new procedures that will improve service paints a positive picture and one that is a little more palatable to staff and clients. For example, the files in a large state’s crime victim compensation program were taking up so much space that additional rooms were needed to hold them. In researching how to archive the files, it was learned not only that the files could be imaged onto disks that would be easily accessible, but also that the document imaging process could help the workflow which would eventually decrease the time it took to process claims from crime victims. The problem of space opened the door to an entirely new and faster system of processing claims.
When a problem presents itself, it can become an opportunity for staff in one section to learn more about the inner workings of another section. When departments or sections collaborate on problem solving, thus can learn about the problems each faces on a daily basis and they can better understand how their work affects the others. When one piece of the system changes, it can affect several other pieces. If staff members are not consulted in the problemsolving effort, changes can cause a great deal of resentment and make the management of the change much more difficult.
THE NEED FOR A POSITIVE APPROACH If problems are approached from a positive point of view and are seen by the leadership as opportunities to review procedures and policies and to creatively adopt new ideas, the staff is more likely to also view the change from a positive point of view. For example, when the

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administration decides to ask the staff to make their cubicles look more professional, the approach taken can be a positive or a negative one. The "spin" can make all the difference in whether the staff accepts the change or grumbles, complains, and fights.
If middle management takes the approach, "I don’t like it either, but I’m just doing what I’ve been told so you have to make the change," staff are not likely to accept the change without grumbling. On the other hand, if the approach by middle management is positive and the changes are couched in a way that lets the staff know that they are professionals and that "our leadership encourages us to look and act our best at all times," staff may be more likely to accept the change.
Whether or not the organization works within teams, the leader can develop a "team" mentality by a positive approach. When staff members feel that they are a critical part of something bigger than themselves, they sense an importance to their jobs. They feel needed; studies have often shown that an individual’s need for significant work ranks above the need for higher pay. Leaders who develop a team spirit can use that camaraderie to nurture employees and enhance productivity.
In Supervising and Managing People, several guidelines are offered to help improve staff spirit:
C Select people who are right for the organization. Over time transfer or even let go people who tend to tear the team or the organization apart. Like a coach, the leader can’t develop a winning team without having the right team members to put forward a coordinated, highly motivated effort toward an agreed-upon goal.
C Work to create a supportive environment for the team or staff. The entire organization can reward cooperative, collaborative work methods.
C Challenge the team or staff to help the organization as a whole. Team spirit thrives in an atmosphere filled with short-term assignments, medium-term goals, and long-term missions linked directly to the organization’s health and survival. When the team or staff knows its work is important and valuable, each member tends to feel a stronger commitment level.
C Create a unique team or staff identity. When a strong spirit and a good productivity level exist, people tend to carry the same goals and work toward them together.
C Encourage the team or staff to use its initiative and creativity. Tackling problems and handling resources according to its own best judgment will boost the positive spirit.
C Make the team or staff accountable. Part of taking responsibility for success is being willing to have effort measured and evaluated. The spirit of a team increases when members recognize that their contribution is a significant part of the success (First Books 1996, 27).

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REFRAMING PROBLEMS Having a positive approach to problems, big and small, creates an environment that is open, participatory, and creative. An essential part of a positive approach is the ability to view problems as opportunities for learning and growth, not disasters that must be avoided at all costs. The key to reframing problems in this way is "keeping your eye on the end of the matter." (Mackoff and Wenet 2001, 41) When problems are viewed as ends in and of themselves, they become larger than they are, more powerful than they are, and essentially isolated and removed from the underlying goals and objectives of the organizations. When the focus remains on the "end," e.g., the guiding values and principles articulated in an organization’s mission statement, along with the end goal of the specific project or undertaking underway, then the problems become stepping stones that simply must be negotiated. They are lessons to be learned along the way and can have a tremendously beneficial and positive impact on the shaping of future actions and directions.
Esther Torres is the Director of the Community Development Corporation, an organization dedicated to assisting eighteen-to-twenty-year-old former foster youths in achieving constructive self sufficiency. Foster youths leave the system at the age of eighteen and suddenly experience a world in which they are on their own with no support of any kind; statistics show that this population has a 50 percent chance of ending up on the street within six months of coming of age (Ibid. 42). One of the programs developed by the Community Development Corporation is the HOME program in which the youths work in revitalizing dilapidated housing in east Los Angeles.
Ironically, Torres’ grandfather left the troubled neighborhoods of east L.A., with his family, over six decades ago, in search of a more peaceful life in the rich farming regions of the San Joaquin Valley. Although he spoke no English and had little resources, in time he became one of the largest landowners and farmers in the valley. The lessons Torres learned from her farming childhood created the work ethic that guides her daily approach to the challenges she faces in helping the youths and neighborhoods to which she has returned.
Torres uses a farming metaphor in describing the opportunities for learning that present themselves with all challenges:
On the farm there are physical indicators that things don’t work: The plant dies, the cotton doesn’t grow. You can work with your heart and soul, and the season wipes you out completely. You don’t unravel and wonder, Was it worth it? You ask, What is the lesson here? What can we do together so our time will be more productive? Where would we like to be in five years? And what are the avenues we can take to get there? (Ibid.)
Opening up the channels. Another farming metaphor used by Torres is "opening up the channels." Leaders utilize their vision in looking for new "channels" or solutions, or reframing existing channels to address particular problems. The leader’s role is first to identify and then to ensure that the channels are addressing the problem:

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When you are a farmer, unless you channel the flow of water to flow through the rows to nurture the trees or crops, they are not going to grow, and they are not going to bear fruit. you’ve got to channel that water. There could be water everywhere, but if it doesn’t go to the right place, you don’t have a crop. (Ibid. 43)
It takes openness and creativity to identify the channel that will best address any given problem faced by an organization. In Torres’ creation of the HOME project, the particular channel she utilized was opening up the communication between two county agencies, the Community Development Commission and the L.A. County Department of Children’s Services. These two agencies had never worked together, but through Torres’ opening up of the channels, a new partnership arose that addressed significant community needs in a highly beneficial way. Housing was refurbished and made affordable, and youths with little odds for success were given opportunities and the tools for burgeoning self sufficiency.

EFFECTIVE AND ONGOING COMMUNICATION
Effective communication is key to any type of relationshipCmarriage, children, work. Miscommunications and misunderstandings often cause wasted time, hurt feelings, and negative outcomes. Ongoing communication between the leadership and the staff is one element in helping workers to feel that their jobs are significant and their job setting is comfortable.
As simple as it sounds, effective communication is not easy. Saying to staff, "I have an open door policyCcome talk with me about anything" is wonderful, but it doesn’t go far enough. Communication must flow freely and comfortably to bring about a positive and constructive workplace environment. It is invaluable for individuals to know that they can go to their supervisor with problems, concerns, or innovative ideas and be heard.
Staff members want to be heard. They have opinions that have been developed over time, based upon their cumulative work experience. They appreciate being asked to share their opinions. Most employees understand that the leader of an organization must make the final decision but having input is a huge morale booster.
Staff members also want to be informed. If a new policy is on the horizon, they want to know why it is needed, when it will be implemented, who will be implementing it, how their jobs will be affected, and so on. To hear about the new policy on the day it is being implemented is not effective communication. Offering staff a chance to provide input and to ask questions is the preferable way to communicate a new policy.
In Win Win Management: Leading People in the New Workplace, George Fuller (1998) explains that workers today are recognized as valuable contributors to fundamental decisions about how the job is to be done. Although it isn’t always possible to achieve a consensus within the group, it is important that workers recognize that open discussions are encouraged and to know they will be heard, even though every employee suggestion cannot be implemented. As Fuller states, "After all, no matter how much teamwork and cooperation there is, the buck always has to stop somewhere. By the way, there is no requirement for

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overall agreement in every workplace decision." He goes on to make the important point that employees themselves don’t necessarily want to be decision makers. What they do want is to be a part of discussions that involve their jobs. This type of communication helps set the stage for workers to accept the changes that they may not agree with. Simply giving them input lets them know they contributed to the process.
Don’t make the mistake of soliciting input when the decision has already been made. Employees usually know when the supervisor is manipulating a situation by pretending to receive input when in reality the decision has already been made.
An important follow-up to allowing employees to be heard is listening, and it is often a much harder task. Peter F. Drucker (1990) in Managing the Nonprofit Organization identifies listening as one of the basic competencies of a good leader. Drucker defines listening not as a skill but as a discipline and says good leaders have the willingness, ability, and self-discipline to listen. "Anybody can do it. All you have to do is keep your mouth shut." For most, that is much easier said than done. Listening sounds like an easy task, but few people really know how to listening effectively.
Often during social conversations, for instance, one or more of the people involved begin to look around the room or worse yet, turn away and begin talking to someone else. Leaders should take note of their listening skills and see if they need improvingCthen practice listening to their employees.
Besides face-to-face listening, there are other ways of "listening":
C Hold staff meetings in which the differing of opinions is encouraged. C Hold small meetings; they are more conducive to allowing people to talk openly. C Request written comments or thoughts. C Keep a suggestion box with anonymous input. C Go individually to employees’ offices to solicit input. C Periodically survey staff for their ideas and input (with anonymous responses, if desired).
ATTUNEMENT Attunement is defined as listening in such as way that one learns from those one is leading (Mackoff and Wenet 2001, 125). It is important to never underestimate the impact of truly listening to another individual.
When Dr. Mitchell Rabkin took over as CEO of Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, his first official decision was somewhat unorthodox in the world of hospital administrationChe abolished the doctor’s dining room. In so doing, he sent a clear message to doctors concerning his expectations that they stayed "tuned in" to their fellow hospital employees as well as the

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patients. It also conveyed his high regard for every individual in the hospital, regardless of position or status (Ibid.).
Being truly attuned to another individual allows the listener to begin to understand the experience of that individual in a way that may never have been possible before. Another policy instituted by Rabkin was to require first-year medical students to spend their first three days in the hospital wearing a nonmedical uniform and trying to do the job of someone in social services, housekeeping, or laundry. His goal was to show these students, from the very first moment of embarking upon their medical career, that the hospital depended on a multitude of individuals, some of whom are never heard or even acknowledged by the upper level medical staff. Equally important, it allowed them the opportunity to understand the point of view of other hospital staff members.
True listening is difficult, and like any skill, it must be learned and practiced. Leaders are constantly setting examples in the way they function and operate on a daily basis and the way they listen to others within their organization, no matter what level that person may be, has a tremendous impact on how well the organization will ultimately be able to achieve its goals.

THE BENEFITS OF LEARNING AND USING A MORE COOPERATIVE STYLE
THE SEVEN CHALLENGES TO COOPERATIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Effective communications skills are essential to identify and resolve conflicts. In The Seven Challenges: Cooperative Communication Skills Workbook and Reader, Dennis Rivers (1999) identifies "the seven most powerful, rewarding and challenging steps" to connect with people:
1. Get more done, have more fun, Living and working with others is a communicationintensive activity. The better a leader understands others’ feelings and wants, and the more clearly they in turn understand the leader’s goals and feelings, the easier it will be to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.
2. More satisfying closeness with others. Learning to communicate better involves exploring two big questions: "What’s going on inside of me?" and "What’s going on inside of you?". Modern life is so full of distractions and entertainments that many people don’t know their own hearts, nor the hearts of others, very well. Exercises in listening can help a leader to listen more carefully, and reassure conversation partners that s/he really does understand what they are going through. Exercises in self-expression can help the leader ask for what s/he wants more clearly and calmly.
3. More respect. Since there is a lot of mutual imitation in everyday communication (She raises her voice; he raises his voice, etc.), adopting a more compassionate and respectful attitude toward conversation partners invites and influences them to do the same.
4. More influence. When the leader practices the combination of responsible honesty and attentiveness, s/he is more likely to engage other people and reach agreements that everyone can live with. The leader is are more likely to get what s/he wants, and for reasons that won’t be regretted later (Rivers, n.d.).

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5. More comfortable with conflict. Because people have different talents, there is much to be gained by their working together, accomplishing together what no one could do alone. But because people also have different needs and views, there will always be some conflict in living and working together. By understanding more of what goes on in conversations, a leader can become better a team problem solver and conflict navigator. Learning to listen to others more deeply can increase the leader’s confidence so that s/he will be able to engage in a dialogue of genuine give and take and thus be able to help generate solutions to problems that meet more needs.
6. More peace of mind. Because every action a leader takes toward others reverberates in minds and bodies for months (or years), adopting a more peaceful and creative attitude in interactions with others can be a significant way of lowering stress levels. Even in unpleasant situations, a leader can feel good about his/her skillful response.
7. A healthier life. In his book, Love and Survival, Dr. Dean Ornish (1998) cites study after study that point to supportive relationships as a key factor in helping people survive lifethreatening illnesses. To the degree that a leader uses cooperative communication skills to both give and receive more emotional support, s/he will greatly enhance chances of living a longer and healthier life.
Learning to listen and communicate in cooperative and effective ways is key to uncovering one’s own unique capacities for creative problem solving.
ACCESSING CREATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING POTENTIAL
Just as one can learn to lead by accessing his/her own unique leadership qualities, positively inspiring and energizing those around him/her, so too can one learn to access his/her own potential for solving problems in ways that are constructive, innovative, and creative. Identifying and refining leadership style as well as utilizing positive approaches to identifying and solving problems are the keys.
IDENTIFYING PROBLEM-SOLVING STYLE Problem-solving style is only one aspect of overall leadership style. However, problem-solving style can fit into the four categories of leadership style found in Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi and Drea Zigarmi (1985):
C Directing. The leader provides specific instructions and closely supervises task accomplishment.
C Coaching. The leader continues to direct and closely supervise task accomplishment, but also explains decisions, solicits suggestions, and supports progress.
C Supporting. The leader facilitates and supports subordinates’ efforts toward task accomplishment and shares responsibility for decision making with them.

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Chapter Essential Skills For Leaders Creative Problem Solving