Problem Prevention: An Essential Practice of Effective Leaders
Rarely in an interview have I asked an applicant if they are an effective problem solver. Yet, at some point in virtually every interview the applicant mentions they are good problem solvers or enjoys solving problems. I surmise most people feel problem solving is a desirable attribute and may want to make certain the interviewer is aware that is a skill they possess.
Conversely, not once in an interview have I had an applicant mention they are good at problem prevention. Yet, in my experience problem prevention is a more desirable and useful attribute than problem solving. Why is this? People who are the most effective in problem prevention typically face fewer problems, are more productive, and are lower maintenance employees for supervisors.
What Is Problem Prevention?
Simply put, problem prevention is avoiding the creation of problems. It is anticipating problems before they happen. It is making the decisions and taking actions that prevent a problem from ever occurring. It is characterized by the maxim, “An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure.”
You are familiar with problem prevention techniques in your everyday life, such as:
- Brushing and flossing your teeth
- Getting an immunization vaccine
- Installing anti-virus software on your computer
- Scheduling an annual physical
- Regularly changing the oil in your vehicle
People focused on problem prevention go out of their way to make sure they don’t have to deal with problems. They have a decision making process that is grounded in preventing problems. They take actions that produce desired results, yet do so in a way that won’t create unnecessary problems. Organizational leaders skilled in problem prevention have fewer problems come across their desk that demand immediate and potentially prolonged attention.
Consequences of Not Practicing Problem Prevention
The failure to practice problem prevention can have dramatic and even catastrophic consequences. The following high visibility events were in retrospect proven to be preventable:
- The New Orleans levee breach during Hurricane Katrina
- The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
- The flooding of a Japanese Nuclear Reactor following a Tsunami
- The massive Equifax data breach
Other consequences are not so noticeable, but may profoundly and negatively impact individuals and an organization. Just a few such consequences include frustration, anxiety, and loss of:
- Time that could have been spent on mission critical activities
- Effectiveness and efficiency
- Motivation and Desire
- Financial resources
A Template for Problem Prevention
An understanding of problem prevention begins by recognizing the Bible as our guide. The 10 Commandments, Beatitudes, Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit, Proverbs, Spiritual Disciplines, the Holy Spirit, and the example and words of Christ are all a part of God’s design to keep us out of the problem solving mode that so characterizes our lives and organizations. It’s amazing how problems are minimized and mitigated when we align our attitudes and actions with God’s word.
Effective leaders also invariably put into place a series of repeating practices, disciplines, and habits that promote problem prevention in the organizations they lead. Examples include:
- Operational Policies
- Organizational Protocols, Processes, and Systems
- Financial Controls and Audits
- A Staff Performance Management System
- An Intentional Hiring Process
- Background Checks
- Safety and Security Procedures
- Back-ups for Every Position
- Redundant Systems
- Appropriate Training Opportunities
- An Understanding of Change Leadership Principles
- A Well Thought Out Communication Plan for Each Initiative
- A Planning Process That Considers the “Law of Unintended Consequences”
- Use of the “Many Advisors” Approach to Decision Making
- Taking The Necessary Time in Decision Making
Problem prevention is a prime responsibility and therefore an essential skill of organizational leaders. Make problem prevention a daily priority and you will soon find yourself dealing only with those problems that could not have been anticipated or avoided.
Posted on November 14, 2017