I would argue that a leader, no matter their area of expertise, is a good leader based on how they tackle problems.
As you may expect, I'm talking about people-related challenges here, because that's what you do is it not? You drive your team, empower them, inspire. We all have ups and downs, mood changes, and so much more!
Any leader worth their salt will tell you that your biggest asset is your team, because...
If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. - African Proverb
My argument is that, to be a great leader, to focus on your team, to empower them, you need to remove emotion, be clear and objective, and only that way can you be fair!
Being questioned or having someone disagree with you is a good thing! It means that somewhere along the line, either some piece of information is missing, wrong or misunderstood. Fostering an environment where people can pose these questions, really means that you will likely be able to get to the core of the problems quicker. You just have to be the journalist!
For this, we'll use a battle tested journalism technique, the Five Ws!
Before anything else, we need to understand the problem. Don't be fooled, we ALL have biases, so it's important to remove any assumptions or inferences to the best our ability. FYI this is also something we should continuously train and improve on.
I'm not going to cover techniques such as Active Listening, but suffice it to say, the key to solving any problem is not only recognizing there is one, but also understanding what the actual problem is! It is quite unproductive to try and solve the symptom of a problem rather than the cause.
Listen to listen, not to respond. - Donna Brinton
We all perceive things differently. Do you understand your team? Their motivations, goals and aspirations, communication style, emotional support availability, external pressures such as family or dependents?
Have you ever felt like your manager was giving a pre-canned speech? I surely have, and I have a high degree of confidence that they just tried applying a generic solution that was simply not aligned with my way of being or thinking...
Use the tools you continuously learn in the specific context of the person you're leading.
Understanding the person on the other side of the conversation is the first step in understanding why an event, challenge, or grudge came to be.
At this stage we know (better) what the problem is, and who (as a unique person) is involved, and we can research the root cause of the problem.
E.g. maybe someone thinks they don't make enough money, but really what they are upset about is not feeling recognized by their peers.
In more complex scenarios, we may have to go through these motions with more individuals, before we have a reasonable understanding of what actually happen, who was involved and why has such scenario been a source of challenges.
Using the last example, if you were to just try to solve the apparent problem, compensation, you may feel tempted to simply give them a raise. Note that I am NOT making a case to not compensate people fairly.
You may, however, have missed completely the source of unhappiness for someone. Solving a symptom means that their overall mood will not actually improve in the long run.
How to solve a problem requires your focus and understanding in order to actually address the root cause!
You may have noticed that we have not covered all the "Ws", we skipped "Where" and "When" for brevity. We also have included the frequent companion "How". Would love to hear how you use those ones in the real world!
I hope this post helps demystify people problem management a little. While being respectful of each other's quirks, we can be rational and systemic in supporting our teams in their growth, removing (unhelpful) emotion from our decisions, and focus on concrete, palpable information.
It is your job to inform the readers using facts, not opinions!