Leadership Problem – Get Out of Your Rut
Do you find yourself stuck in the same rut? A recurring problem crops up and you or the team come up with the same alternatives you heard before, none of which worked. It’s not that you don’t try, but you are so immersed in the problem that creative solutions don’t occur to you.
Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest begins with McMurphy, the protagonist, being incarcerated in a mental hospital. As soon as he arrives he begins to notice how none of the patients appear to be getting better. His rebellious nature leads him into ongoing and escalating conflict with the hospital staff over this issue. McMurphy’s repetitive and predictable behavior leads to his eventual downfall. Meanwhile, the hero of the novel, the Chief, is a 20-year inmate who has flown under the administration’s radar by pretending to be deaf and incoherent. In reality, he was listening to everything and ultimately escapes the “cuckoo’s nest” using the unlikely idea of throwing an immovable piece of equipment through a barred window and leaving.
One way you and your team reflect the cuckoo’s nest in your organization is by using a typical leadership approach of “Try Harder” to solve difficult problems like McMurphy. Maybe you try motivating the staff to higher levels of engagement with inspiring speeches. Perhaps you implement a new “campaign” to get people excited. In most cases what you do is simply throw MORE of the same resources at the issue because your closeness to the problem prevents you from seeing new solutions.
Try Something New
When this happens it’s time for you to take your leadership and fly over the cuckoo’s nest. Doing the same thing over and over, even if it’s trying harder, is crazy. If you keep doing the same thing, you are going to get the result you’ve always gotten. Trying harder is only going to magnify your problem and delay your ultimate success.
If the creative solution lies within your team’s area of expertise you probably have the answer, but your thinking is either so cluttered or laser focused you can’t see it. The solution to the problem lies in your willingness and commitment to step away from the issue and broaden your focus. Two examples of this kind of approach:
- Attracting New Clients– Referring business possibilities is a time-honored way to grow revenue. Employees referring new prospects get an incentive for each new client possibility. In an effort to increase employee participation and engagement, one company changed the incentive system to a “pool” system. Employees would be incented based on how well the overall line of business improved sales.
- Changing the Game – The movie, Money Ball highlighted the Oakland A’s creative solution of scouting for and hiring baseball players for a winning team. The traditional approach was to look for “good”: pitchers, hitters and fielders. Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players. He looked for and hired players who could get on base – by any means. In 2002, the team won 20 consecutive games that season.
Like the Chief in the Cuckoo’s Nest, these two organizations took a step back from the traditional approach to solving the problem and developed a creative solution that will have a different impact. Here are two ideas you can use to step back and broaden your perspective the next time you or your team are stuck on a problem:
- Do Something Different -- Change the timing and the location of the meeting – Maybe even go off-site for the meeting. There is a phenomenon called state-dependent learning that suggests people fall into familiar patterns of thinking, responding, and problem solving in familiar surroundings.
- Get a Different Perspective – Talk the problem over with an outsider. Part of the problem can be a reliance on the “tried and true.” This is when experience can work against your leadership. One benefit an outsider can bring to a problem is the lack of immersion in the problem.
Involving all of the same people in problem solving can result in the same kind of solutions every time. Working with a well-oiled team makes decision-making easy at times. The problem can be your lack of insight into the fact that you are all repeating your mistakes and need to start stepping out of the box.