Problem finders have gotten a bad rap. Maybe we assume that someone who points out problems is paranoid, looking to get others in trouble or just a pain in the butt.
When is unearthing difficulties not only a good thing, but necessary?
When the problem is potentially catastrophic (or at least very serious). History is full of tragedies that might have been averted. One is profiled in What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen by Michael A. Roberto. The collapse of overhead walkways at a Kansas City Hyatt Regency might have been prevented if numerous warnings had been taken seriously during the construction process. If you’re seeing disaster as a possible outcome, speak up. Don’t stop until resolution is achieved.
When you’re ready and able to help find a solution. Problem finders must be solution finders too. Ideally, find and address the root causes. At the minimum, offer ideas to mitigate the negative effects of the problem.
When the problem is also an opportunity. Some setbacks are clouds with silver linings. For example, the current recession has its upsides – some goods and services are cheaper than ever. Be the one who discovers the potential within a problem.
When is finding problems bad?
When you’re venting. Don’t unearth problems if you have no intention of doing anything about them.
When you really are out to get someone. The problem might be legitimate, but if you’re taking pleasure in bringing down the other guy, that’s not good. Reexamine your motives.
When it’s all you can do. Remember that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So if all you do is find problems, maybe it’s because you are no good at resolving them. Tackling issues requires creativity, intelligence and commitment. Gauge your skills and find ways to boost your capabilities.
Problem finders are important assets in any organization. The best ones combine problem identification with the right actions to produce long-term fixes. The other ones? They really can be pains in the butt.
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