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rock and hard place

Do you have a stuck problem? Or do you have a decision problem?

A while back, a client came to me with a dilemma.

“One of my managers is not meeting expectations in critical areas. While he is well-liked and has been with us for years, he lacks the necessary decisiveness and technical proficiency.

I feel trapped in this situation. Although he is an important team member, I believe he is holding back the team’s progress. While I am willing to let go of under-performing individuals, replacing him will be challenging. I am uncertain about the next steps to take.”

This was my first question to the manager:

Do you have a “stuck” problem? Or a “decision” problem?

The response was telling: “Yeah. I’ve been avoiding the decision. I just don’t like my choices: replace him or live with the situation.”

Often, we can find ourselves feeling “stuck” when what we actually have is a decision problem.

In this case, my client was facing a complex situation and had only identified 2 possible solutions: “tolerating the intolerable” or creating a new problem of “replacing the hard to replace.”

No wonder the manager felt stuck!

Let’s take a deeper look at the situation and discover a few options my client could consider.

Like many of us, my client was leaning into his preferred comfortable place for making decisions. In this case it was the “Active Controller” mindset.

When faced with stress, the Active Controller wants to take charge of the situation. They’re inclined to solve the problem by pushing the direct report aside (either temporarily or permanently) and doing what needs to be done themselves.

While this has worked well for the manager in the past, other perspectives must be considered to continue on the path to leadership mastery.

Here are some of the questions I pose to help explore more perspectives and options.

Timeframe: Immediate vs Longer-Term

If the leader steps in and takes over to solve the immediate problem, what would the longer-term impact be on his manager and team?

What will the future look like for each of the options? Is there a clear and better future vision that could guide actions on this?

Perspective: What Are You Not Seeing?

What are the concerns and perspectives of all the stakeholders? Is his perspective shared?

What data supports and doesn’t support your perspective? Are you being selective with what you are seeing or is there data that you are ignoring?

Personality Differences: Is This Person Just Rubbing You the Wrong Way?

My client described this person as a long-term, well-liked employee.

Is it possible his report has a different personality and different tendencies? How might they be triggering each other? Leaders often have challenges managing people who think and respond differently from how they do.

This is where an understanding of the enneagram can be very helpful.

Leadership Skill: Can You Find a New Way to Handle the Situation?

How might the leader create new conversations for better alignment? Can “expectations” be transformed into “shared agreements”?

What are the win-wins for the organization? Is there another role for this manager that better suits them?

If termination is the solution, then how can the leader do this in the best way possible?

Masterful leaders see being stuck as a decision problem.

They seek to declare the problem quickly, distinguish between what they think and what they know, clarify their fundamental commitments for the situation, explore a range of options, and then take decisive action.

In my role as a leadership coach, I use many tools to help my clients with decision making, leading when things don’t go as planned, and moving from reactive to creative leadership.

If you are feeling stuck or are faced with a difficult decision, consider engaging a Thinking Partner to help you gain clarity and create a path that gets you more of what you truly want.

Ken Roseboom

Ken Roseboom is the President of Thinking Partners. He partners with leaders to increase impact, create aligned teams, and deliver better results. He leverages the Alignment process, assessment tools, expert coaching, and years of front line leadership experience to support his clients.