Over the past several years, leaders in all types of organizations have faced problems they never imagined.
A strong example of this challenge is the question, “What location should the employees in our organization conduct their work?” As recently as 2019, most employers assumed that was a straightforward question – at the company’s office, worksite, store, etc. Five years ago, most leaders likely thought this was a silly question – everyone knew where people were expected to work – at the employer’s designated location.
However, since COVID-19 disrupted many aspects of work, nearly 40 percent of employees no longer always work at a company-designated location (Maurer, R. For Many Employers, Some Remote Work Expected to Last, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), SHRM Online, March 2022).
This is just one example of the more complex – and ever-changing – dilemmas that leaders at virtually every organization are facing today. Problems in today’s business world continue to become more challenging – and there are fewer examples of how they were – or should be – solved. As Marianne Lewis and Wendy Smith wrote, to attain the most effective solution to these types of “tough” problems, leaders must adopt a different problem-solving approach than in the past (Lewis, M.W. & Smith, W. K. Solving Tough Problems Requires a Mindset Shift, Harvard Business Review, August 2022).
To understand how practical problem-solving has been altered, think about how most people, especially leaders, solved problems in the past. First, they identified the “and/or” in defining the problem. Then, they considered what approach had been used in the past, and if that solution worked – and no significant changes had occurred – they followed that same approach. Since speed in providing guidance to a solution was generally rewarded, they made this decision using the “tried-and-true” approach to all similar dilemmas.
If leaders were unsure how to proceed, they discussed the problem or challenge with a trusted colleague/advisor and made a straightforward decision. Therefore, the effort to solve this problem was not the challenge; instead, implementing the solution often required the most action. But today, things are different.
As mentioned earlier, the decision regarding the location of where employees completed their work, what resources each employee needed/utilized, or the method by which it was completed, was generally never even considered. There was one location, approach, process, etc. – and everyone needed to follow it.
However, challenges in today’s business world are much more complex, and the situations are ever-shifting. Specifically, many current and future challenges will include several “conflicting” pressures. So, what is a leader to do? According to Lewis and Smith, they can no longer utilize an “either do A or B” approach to problem-solving. Instead, leaders need to move from this “either/or” style of problem-solving and embrace a “ both/and” approach to problem-solving.
Precisely what does that mean? It entails the ability to “shift their mindset.” As you might imagine, this is a significant change.
To begin, leaders with a both/and mindset tolerate ambiguity and manage the emotional discomfort that may come with it. They don’t consistently look for closure after making a decision. Instead, they continuously review past findings and ask, “Were there other options that would allow for better outcomes in a future dilemma?”
The “both/and” leaders are not “flip-floppers.” Utilizing a both/and approach, they do make decisions. However, they continuously scan for information and consider better or additional approaches – and apply these in similar situations – generally in the future. Therefore, they are also looking at both utilizing previous information and learning and combining that with new and improved approaches/solutions. That is, they “separate and connect.”
Becoming a “both/and” leader is not easy. It often involves embracing paradox. However, as reported by Lewis and Smith (2022), today’s most successful leaders have already shown that this approach leads to the most successful outcomes. Therefore, this capability has already begun to define tomorrow’s “great leaders.” And, if you wish to join that list, you must start to become a “both/and” leader.
About the Author
For years, E.A.S.I.-Consult® has been helping companies identify – and develop – the most successful leaders for their organization. As a leading company in researching and identifying key capabilities necessary for all positions – including various leadership roles – we assist organizations reach their full potential.
Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult and is a licensed Psychologist. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I.-Consult provides superior results for a wide variety of businesses. Our specialties include leadership and leadership potential assessment, online employment assessment, customized skills assessment, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. To learn more about E.A.S.I.-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com, or call 800.922.EASI.