I just picked up a fairly recent book (it was published in 2009) titled Know What You Don’t Know – How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Occur, by Michael Roberto of the Harvard Business School. The essence of the book is that great organizations (profit-seeking, non-profit and government) are run by leaders who don’t emphasize solving problems (that is simply an organizational competence), but rather emphasize finding problems so they can be solved early.
So far, so good. But that’s not far enough; the real leadership challenge goes beyond that. And ironically, we have only to remember the decades-old words of the man who probably first articulated them widely. Now who else would I be referring to but Peter Drucker?
A very long time ago the great man said (I can’t remember his exact words so I’m paraphrasing): Problem-solving is looking backwards; it is playing catch-up. The real job of leaders is to seek out opportunities.
No one I know disagrees, but so few executives really take this to heart. The problem of the day always seems to take time away from the opportunity of tomorrow. This is one reason that we recommend that CEOs spend 30% of their time with customers – not selling, but simply understanding them and their needs, including their future needs.
There’s an old saying that goes: “a 30% annual growth rate makes up for a lot of internal problems”, and it’s entirely true. Sure, you can get a little sloppy without constantly solving every little problem, but wouldn’t you rather deal with the problems of growth than the problems of that you have time to focus on if there’s no growth?