Problem Solving at Work: How to Deal with Crisis

How leaders handle a crisis shows a lot about individual character. Consider the issues you solve at work and think about how you come to solutions. How does a leader react to a problem? More importantly, how do you respond to challenges?

These questions are indicative of the leadership environment at work. When leaders handle problems well, the organization also embraces the decisions even when it’s unfavorable. The opposite is also common, and you may have experienced both at work or at home.

Dealing with a crisis is why we hire leaders. It’s the pinnacle of leadership to lead a group, company, or nation out of a complicated issue. Ask yourself some questions: how do I want to be guided through a problem I’m handling? Is my leadership listening to advisers and subordinates? What decisions cause change for better or worse?

Here are three things to consider.

Look at the results of decisions

Subordinates receive different information than their bosses. They also see the results of decisions from higher that significantly impact their day to day activities. The results speak volumes about the values of the company, group, or nation. Think about why a decision was made in the first place, and what problem it was designed to fix. If you learn to think critically, then you’ll be able to further contribute to the solution. Unfortunately, some bosses aren’t great at listening, but some are.

How do decisions affect the organization? Think about the United States as an example. A governmental crisis spurred the creation of The Constitution of the United States. Decisions about individual liberties, state’s rights, and federal oversight came through consistent discussion at the Constitutional Convention. As time went on, elected officials needed to amend The Constitution that affected everyone in the United States: i.e., women’s voting rights (19th amendment), prohibition, and the 18th amendment (and its repeal through the 21st amendment), and the 14th amendment decisions about Brown vs. The Board of Education.

How have these amendments affected the general population? These became decisive points for a nation in crisis. The results of these decisions, regardless of personal opinion, impacted the future of the United States. Similarly, that’s how our companies operate, as well.

Your organization makes decisions every day. As a good employee, we need to see how we fit into our company’s bigger picture. Analyze decisions and see how you can support them. If it is a decision you don’t like, then you have a harder decision to make to sustain your leader’s conclusions or not.

Turning back to the title, if a leader is worth anything, they’ll lead their organization through a crisis. Bosses who blame their subordinates for their problems do not understand how it’s their responsibility to coach and mentor those under their charge. People want to be led, especially during a crisis.

Look at reactions

How is your boss dealing with a problem? I once worked at an ice cream shop as a teenager with an energetic manager. One day while doing inventory, the power went out. My manager freaked out. She panic-called her boss, fretted over the freezers being open, and had me move the ice cream cakes from the front of the store to the blast freezer in the back.

Looking back, she made the right calls. However, it was the manner that she carried them out that made me lose confidence in her leadership. What if she took one minute to take stock of the situation instead of panicking? Easier said than done, right? Pete Blaber’s book The Mission, the Men, and Me highlights this point to take a minute and develop the situation. Then, make a call, and execute.

Knee-jerk reactions to problems could cause additional ripple effects for an organization. Be careful to implement quick-fix responses to complex issues. For example, we missed some staff deadlines to our higher unit; based on those missed deadlines, we started having two meetings each day just about deadlines and where we were on those projects. It turned out to be a bigger disaster for us because we spent more time preparing for those meetings than actually accomplishing our tasks. It became frustrating.

Look at attitude

Is the leader apathetic to the situation? Panicky? What about sarcastic? Or, are they calm, collected, and willing to work? These are important to notice because it shows the dedication of the leader.

I once talked to a company commander during a field exercise. In our conversation, the commander vented frustrations with the bosses within the chain of command and quipped, “I’m getting out when I’m done with command.” To add context, this was said in front of soldiers under this commander’s charge. How do you think the soldiers felt when this commander said that?

I’ll admit, emotion gets in the way of leadership. I’m not one to judge. There are times and places to let that show. When your leader has a poor attitude toward the situation, then that attitude permeates throughout the entire unit, company, or organization.

If you’re in leadership, watch how your attitude affects those around you. If you have a boss, watch them closely to gauge how they’re handling problems. Don’t be critical. Just observe and fill in where your boss is lacking. That’s how you can be a better subordinate, and people will notice.

Conclusion

Whether you’re in a leadership position or not doesn’t affect how you view your next higher-up. Take notes on what your boss does well, and what they don’t do well. Your metal notes will be your proverbial yardstick for implementing your own leadership philosophy and how you can be a better leader. Again, don’t be overly critical. If you were in their shoes, how would you react?

Attitude is paramount. Ask yourself how an issue affects your mood. What things are you saying to your peers and subordinates?

How have you dealt with a crisis? Do you have positive or negative examples of problem-solving? Thanks for reading!

8 thoughts on “Problem Solving at Work: How to Deal with Crisis”

  1. Leahrae says:

    This is great information.  So many are critical of their boss.  They don’t take the time to walk in their bosses shoes.  As you say, how would you have handled a particular situation?  Are you being too critical yourself?  It is much easier to react to someone’s actions then to act and just speak your peace.  Sometime though too, it is just better to sit back, think on it and realize that you are over reacting LOL.

    1. Robert says:

      Subordinates can be critical of their bosses, you’re right. We expect our leaders to do the right thing for sure. That’s why I believe that a boss with character is worth having and leading people. Thank you for your comment!

      Robert

  2. Imelda says:

    I really like your article about Problem Solving and how to deal with a crisis especially at this time. I was a leader in the work place and believed that a good leader is someone who can make decisions that are best for everyone involved. I think a good leader is someone who is inspirational to others and enjoys working with people to get the best out of their work force. I also believe that the element of being able to be in a crisis is so important and probably the time that people really need you to be strong. I have learnt to be a leader from my own bosses so I like the point you make about learning from your boss to be the best leader that you can be which is what I did.

    Great information 

    1. Robert says:

      It’s difficult to refrain from judgement like you said. I think as subordinates that we also have an obligation to bring issues to the attention of our bosses. Oftentimes, I’ll couple a problem with a solution and assess risks for that solution. I appreciate your comment!

      Robert

  3. Antonio says:

    Hi

    This is an important issue, as how the manager copes with a difficult decisions that they have constantly,  every day. The problem I see is that people who approach think calmly and methodically tend to do well in the crisis than those who blindly try to solve problem. I am a great believer in being proactive rather than reactive and the problem is must manager do not spent time trying to stop the problems from occurring in the first place. Most problems can be predict and therefore prevented.

    It is difficult dealing with a problem that you did not create and people are not helping you. We all need good strategies  to order to cope but you still need good management, which often is difficult to find. Do you think that in general managers are adept to problem solving or do you think they are part of the problem?

    Thanks

    Antonio

    1. Robert says:

      Antonio,

      You raise a good question. I think a lot of times managers are hired for their past experience as a really good line worker. It’s not a bad way to hire from within. However, many mid-level managers aren’t being trained in how to manage resources, assess risk at their level, and develop solutions that they experienced. Companies who do not invest in the mid-level managers will find that their workforce will deteriorate. Senior leadership, who should be the most capable to solve problems, may react poorly because of mid-level manager’s ineptitude (it’s not all their fault though). So, the responsibility should be on the senior leaders to professionally develop their mid-level managers. Council them on what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong as well. That’s a great question, Antonio. Thank you!

      Robert

  4. Tom says:

    Hey,

    This is a great article on problem solving. As a leader, I never try to solve problems alone. However, I have had bosses who did try to solve problems alone when they should have included the team. I have no issue in challenging my bosses and giving them my thoughts on how they should have went about solving a problem. I try my best to be constructive and positive, and sometimes they are accepting and sometimes they are not because of their attitude (as you have discussed).

    Those bosses could do with reading your article and gain some better insights and ideas on how they should problem solve from now on.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work on your site.

    All the best,

    Tom

    1. Robert says:

      Tom,

      You’re right. Collaboration is critical to solving complex issues. I know it’s not talked about a lot, but attitude really makes a difference when solving problems. It contributes to resilience. I appreciate your comment!

      Robert

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