Friday, May 30, 2008

Leadership--Getting to the Why

How many times have you been in a situation where it seems everyone is discussing the symptoms of a situation or problem but not getting to the root cause? In my business it seems to happen all the time. We can fairly easily characterize the "What is Happening" but have a much harder time trying to discover the "Why is it Happening."

In team situations, sometimes we face a situation where a question is asked and an answer provided--seemingly the action is completed. But in digging deeper, very often the question that was asked doesn't provide the real answer to the root question because the questioner does not have enough information to ask the right question. It is up to the leader to intervene and try to determine--what the real question is. Or, get to the why!

In group/team situations it is up to the leader to keep questioning until the collective of the team is finally able to move from identifying symptoms to understanding the root cause, or the why. This may require understanding a process or a function which normally just operates without much thought being given to it.

"Getting to the Why" is the finding root of understanding.

It is like trying to understand an accident. There may be a lot of symptoms to consider and a lot of actions to understand (for example: skid marks, late turning, broken brake lines), but it all comes back to a root cause of some type: improperly trained people, or inattention to the task at hand caused by staying up too late to watch a sporting event, or excessive speed caused by being late to an appointment (of course that too may be a symptom of a larger problem).

In the business world, symptoms may be lower sales, declining profits, or reduced action on the web site. The root cause may be global economic downturn or may be that a competitor has introduced a superior product and innovation is needed to recover lost market share.

In our personal lives--we see symptoms of larger problems: sleeplessness, sickness, stress, a sense of not having enough time, burn out. Sometimes we try to address the symptom--with medicines (and in the case of a disease or sickness--that may be the root cause) , or through strict exercise regimens, or vitamin supplements. But do we need to look deeper into our lives to discover the real "why?"
- Are we out of control by trying to be everything to everyone?
- Have we set unreal and unattainable expectations for ourselves and our relationships?
- Are we searching for happiness and the meaning of life in the collection of material goods and creature comforts?
- Do we need to learn to be where we are and not always looking for where we want to be?

There are no easy answers--but the leader needs to keep asking --why? Like what my children used to do--ask a continual series of why questions only to see how far I could go in providing reasons for why things were connected. And amazingly enough--we could go pretty deep.

The leader needs to take their team deep into the "why?" Do not be content with simple solutions to shallow symptoms. Solving symptoms may make you feel good, for a while, but the underlying issue may never be resolved.

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