Problems. There never seems to be a lack of them. And there is never any lack of people that want to obsess over them! And when I say obsess I really mean that they are stuck TALKING about the problem as they are not working on a solution.
If we are honest, we are all guilty of indulging in this behavior from time to time. We know it is not helpful and yet we still get sucked down the rabbit hole of negativity at times. Recent brain research gives us some insight into why this is and what we can do about it.
Research on how the brain deals with positive and negative stimuli published in an article in Psychology Today gives us some insight into why we get so stuck in the negative. It should come as no surprise that our brains are more impacted by the negative. What is surprising is that the ratio of positive to negative stimuli needs to be at least 5:1 in order to maintain a balance in our relationships. This may explain why leaders tend to try to overwhelm their teams with positive ‘how we can’ information when their team wants to talk about ‘why we can’t. Unfortunately all that positivity falls of deaf ears, and the team may eventually writes of the leader as disconnected from reality. And that leads us to Deadly Sin #4.
Leadership Deadly Sin #4: Allow People to Focus on Things They can Neither Control Nor Influence
There is a lot riding on whether you can get your team’s focus on solutions rather than problems. It will come as no surprise to you that your success as a leader is directly proportional to your ability to get your team to focus on what they can do, rather than on what they cannot. The question is HOW. In order to answer this question, we need to first look at a mental model of how problems interact with what we can control and what we can influence.
Your Circle of Control (COC):
Although we may try to control many different things in our lives, there are only two that we can exert complete control over; our thoughts and our actions. No matter how talented you are you cannot control your results, and you definitely cannot control another person. As a individual contributor you may have felt that you were in control of your results, but you really were not. You just were using your talents, skill and experience to create positive results. Once you become a leader you now are responsible for the results of others, but you have even less control because you are one step removed from the activity that creates results.
While you may not be able to control people, circumstances and results – you can influence them.
Your Circle of Inﬂuence (COI):A second larger concentric circle is your Circle of Inﬂuence. This circle encompasses people you have strong relationships with, some events that occur, and some circumstances you encounter. There are other people, events and circumstances that you have little or no inﬂuence over that would be outside your COI. While the Circle of Control is static (it does does change), the Circle of Influence is dynamic – it will grow or shrink depending on how you deal with Problems that come into your life.
We define a Problem as a person, event or circumstance that you have some inﬂuence over. There are actually two parts to any problem. The first is the part that you have some control of influence over. The second part of the problem is the part that you have no control or influence over.
If you chose to focus and take action on the part of the Problem that you have some inﬂuence over, then you will feel empowered and you will experience growth in your capabilities and results. In addition, over time your Circle of Inﬂuence will grow; and people, events and circumstances that were previously outside of your Circle of Inﬂuence will now fall within your new Circle of Inﬂuence.
Unfortunately, many people choose to focus on the part of the Problem they have no inﬂuence over. This is initially very liberating, as blame for the problem can be assigned elsewhere. However, over time this focus will lead to a decrease in growth and eventual decay of an individual’s Circle of Inﬂuence.
How to Change Your Team’s Focus:
In order to shift a team member’s focus off the part of the Problem they have no influence over you must do something that is completely alien to most leaders. You have to agree with them and stop arguing with them. In other words, when they say “We can’t because … insert reason here” we would normally say “But you could do … insert solution here.” This amounts to an argument with your employee. It’s an argument it would appear you eventually win, because they may capitulate and appear to be committed. However you almost always will find that they do not change.
What if you tried this. Next time when a team member says “We can’t because … insert reason here” say “You are absolutely correct, that is why we can’t do it.”
Then stop. Don’t talk. It will absolutely pop their navel. They were expecting an argument but you a agreed with them. They don’t understand. And so they will be listening to what you say next.
The Magic Moment:
Now you have their attention say: “I have a different question for you though… What could you do that would positively impact the situation?”
Do you notice what happened? We moved from why they can’t – to what they could do. However, we did not ask them to do it – just to entertain the possibility. Now that you have them discussing what they could do you can engage in a conversation about can actually happen.
So next time you notice that your team is focused on ‘why they can’t’ do what needs to be done – don’t overpower them with positive solutions. Redirect their focus with a question like, “What part of this Problem do you have control or influence over? Once you identify the part of the Problem that they have some control or influence over, then coach the person to set goals and action steps in that area.