My 3 Step Framework For Actually Solving Problems: The Failure Stack
If you’re in a position of leadership, everything is your fault.
Although this concept has been recently popularized (see Extreme Ownership), it’s a timeless truth. The best leaders share the credit for wins, take the blame for losses, and never shy away from the difficult work.
Easier said than done…we’re all human, just trying to do our best.
If you’re running a team and they miss the mark, it’s easy to toss the blame square on their shoulders.
However, I’ve found that the true cause of failure is rarely actually a “person problem”. In fact, most of the lessons and upgrades that have come from a team member failing at something have been within me as a leader — because that’s typically where the cause of the issue lies.
Whenever I’m confronted with a “miss” in business, I force myself to analyze the problem through these three questions (in this specific order):
Leadership Problem: Did I fail to lead them effectively?
Honestly, this is where most of my “Failure Stack” exercises stop — because I find the root cause.
- Did I fail to clearly illustrate the outcome that we’re chasing and WHY it’s important to the business?
- Did I fail to co-create success metrics for the project, resulting in the team not knowing what “winning” looks like?
- Did I do a poor job coaching the team through their shortcomings?
System Problem: Were they following a plan or process that needs an upgrade?
If you get through the first level of the stack, it’s time to examine the system that is guiding the work.
- System? What system? Hmmm…that could be a clue 😂
- Is the process out of date, inaccurate, or poorly written?
- Have you established a culture of actually “following the processes”, or simply writing them down and never opening them again?
Person Problem: Did they fail to follow an established system?
If you make it through those two levels and everything feels ON POINT, then (and only then) may you have a person problem.
To get to this point in the stack, you’re saying that you’ve effectively led them to the outcome, identified and measured metrics to define success, coached them through their shortcomings, audited the processes that they’re following (which were all dialed in), and double checked that they’re diligently following them.
If all that’s true, then yes — you may have a person who needs an upgrade.
But at the end of the day, most human beings don’t roll out of bed and think, “man, I can’t wait to go to work and do a horrible job today!” People generally want to do good work for good people.
We just have to lead them to that outcome.
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