Problem-Solving at Work

How to deal with crisis

How leaders handle crises shows a lot about individual character. How does a leader react to a problem? More importantly, how do you respond to challenges? Sometimes, people don’t understand problem-solving at work, and it shows.

When leaders handle problems well, employees will continue to follow. Conversely, when leaders do not solve problems they become liabilities. You may have experienced both of these leaders at some point.

Leaders gain the trust of subordinates by their ability to solve problems and crises. It’s an honor to lead a group, company, or nation out of a complicated issue. Ask yourself some questions: how would I want to be led during a crisis? Is my leadership listening to advisers and subordinates? What decisions cause change for better or worse?

Here are four things to consider.

Look at the Results of Decisions

Employees receive different information than their bosses. Also, they also see how decisions impact their daily work routines.

As soon as you make a decision as a leader, think about who will execute that decision. How will their workloads change? What is the result of that change? Instead of reviewing mountains of data, go and talk to your employees in their workspaces. Explain controversial decisions clearly. Then, see the results of a decision you made and adjust where needed.

Your organization makes decisions every day. Good employees find out how they fit into their company’s bigger picture. Unfortunately, you won’t agree with every decision that comes from top leadership. If you feel like you cannot support a decision, ask for a closed-door meeting to discuss your concerns. Then decide whether to move on from the company or stay.

Look at History

Use the United States as an example. A governmental crisis created a need for The Constitution of the United States. Decisions about individual liberties, state rights, and federal oversight came through consistent discussion at the Constitutional Convention.

Eventually, 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. Additionally, the results of these decisions, regardless of personal opinion, impacted the future of the United States. Similarly, that’s how our workplace situations operate.

Remember, bosses who blame their subordinates for their problems do not understand basic leadership. Leaders have a solemn 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, panic-called her boss, and complained over open freezers.

Looking back, my manager made the right calls. However, it was the reaction to a problem that made me lose confidence in my manager’s leadership. Reacting to the problem rather than assessing the situation made the experience worse. 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.

Likewise, knee-jerk reactions to problems could cause additional ripple effects for an organization. Be cautious of quick-fix responses.

For example, early in my Army career, my unit was late executing orders from our higher command. As an Army staff, deadlines are critical to success, and as a result, we started holding two staff meetings each day. It became frustrating for me because I had to come in early to prepare for the morning meeting and then stop halfway through my afternoon work to prepare for the meeting at the end of the day.

Look at Attitude

Is the leader uncaring toward a tough situation? Panicky? What about sarcastic? Or, are they calm, collected, and willing to work? Attitude is 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 said, “I’m getting out of the Army when I’m done with command.” To add context, the commander blurted this statement in front of soldiers. After hearing this, how do you think the soldiers felt?

Admittedly, emotion gets in the way of leadership. I’m not one to judge. When your leader has a poor attitude, that attitude spreads through the unit, company, or organization.

Watch how your attitude affects those around you. Watch your boss closely to understand how they handle problems. Don’t be critical. Just observe and fill in where your boss is lacking. That’s how you can be a better subordinate.


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!

Books Mentioned

The Mission, the Men, and Me by Pete Blaber. Read a review here.

Photo Credit

Featured Image: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Image 1: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Image 2: Photo by Edmond Dantès

Image 3: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio


8 thoughts on “Problem-Solving at Work”

  1. 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. 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!


  2. 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. 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!


  3. 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?



    1. 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!


  4. 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,


    1. 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!


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