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Jan Smith discusses how, during this high activity time of year, it’s important to avoid quick fixes to life’s dilemmas.

Life is full of predicaments -- like the one I faced this week. I have pressing business matters to handle before year-end, yet I also really need time with my sweetheart, time for shopping, and time for my own year-end reflection work. How does one fit it all in?

When we find ourselves at crossroads, dealing with a troublesome problem or in a difficult situation – most of us rush to resolve it. We simply tell ourselves, “Something is wrong and I must fix it immediately!”

It seems natural to move towards the quickest solution to a problem. Yet it’s the leaders who go beyond what is predicable and shift how they think, who find creative, innovative solutions to a predicament.

Charlie Chaplin exemplifies our natural reaction to a predicament:
“That is why, no matter how desperate the predicament is, I am always very much in earnest about clutching my cane, straightening my derby hat and fixing my tie, even though I have just landed on my head.”

We are more concerned with looking good and acting like we know what to do than risking appearing soft or weak by including others. In fact, most of us would prefer a root canal over asking for input.

But here’s the thing: the best solutions come more from how we think than from quick decisiveness. The best solutions come from possibility thinking, not either/or (quick fix) thinking. If you want to shift your thinking, avoid running quickly to a solution and, instead, allow yourself to stay in the ache or tension that the predicament has created. Questions are your best natural resource.

Successful leaders take the time to surface the underlying issues and causes of problems. We all know that time spent on the front end addressing the deeper concerns will pay off in the long term, building a more productive and successful organization. So why don’t we take the time?

Unearthing the Rich Surprises Beneath the Topsoil of Predicaments:
How do we explore what’s unseen and unknown? As leaders, we may have to be brave enough to say, “Let’s not jump to a conclusion; what are the deeper issues here?” Better said, we need to find the open curiosity we had as children.

Consider this story told about Swiss inventor, George de Mestral: Two men with their dogs went walking in the woods and then parted ways. When they returned home, one man found burrs on his dog’s fur and grumbled with annoyance. He got so frustrated with the task of pulling the burrs off his dog, that he finally shaved the dog to fix the problem. The second man, Mestral, was so fascinated by the burr and how it worked that he invented Velcro. To see opportunity, we must be willing to stand in the creative tension of a disturbance and be fascinated with what we can’t yet see.

A Life Example:
One executive, who I’ll call Elizabeth, shared her predicament on a teleclass. Elizabeth was struggling with the question of when to retire. When she retires, she worries about being bored or running out of money. And if she stays in her job much longer, she worries about losing her enthusiasm or turning into a complainer. While Elizabeth’s issues of being bored or having money are legitimate concerns, they may not be the real underlying concerns.

In fact, being bored could be a hidden concern regardless of the decision to retire or work. Elizabeth needs to figure out what the boredom is all about. Most of us will mask anything that smacks of boredom with a slew of activities that give us the illusion of happiness. We’re afraid to slow down because we are afraid of what we might feel.

In Elizabeth’s case, many questions later, what surfaced was - if she retires, will she get lonely? How will she meet her needs for having satisfying, adult relationships?

By staying in the discomfort and tension, looking beneath the surface of her predicament, Elizabeth can begin to hear the wisdom of her own soul. And she can use this time to do research – interview others who have retired; find out what they have learned about boredom; get friends to ask her questions about what she loves to do; explore interesting ways to engage with others, etc. The more we can listen to our own internal yearnings, the more we can live in authentic joy.

Now knowing her deeper concerns, Elizabeth can spend time asking others not to give her solutions, but to ask her questions to help her think and look inside herself.

The best thing we can do with our predicaments is to use them to improve our lives.


Posted on Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 11:40AM by Registered CommenterJan Smith | Comments Off

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