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Why Problem-Solving Skills Are Essential for Leaders in Any Industry

Business man leading team in problem-solving exercise with white board

  • 17 Jan 2023

Any organization offering a product or service is in the business of solving problems.

Whether providing medical care to address health issues or quick convenience to those hungry for dinner, a business’s purpose is to satisfy customer needs .

In addition to solving customers’ problems, you’ll undoubtedly encounter challenges within your organization as it evolves to meet customer needs. You’re likely to experience growing pains in the form of missed targets, unattained goals, and team disagreements.

Yet, the ubiquity of problems doesn’t have to be discouraging; with the right frameworks and tools, you can build the skills to solve consumers' and your organization’s most challenging issues.

Here’s a primer on problem-solving in business, why it’s important, the skills you need, and how to build them.

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What Is Problem-Solving in Business?

Problem-solving is the process of systematically removing barriers that prevent you or others from reaching goals.

Your business removes obstacles in customers’ lives through its products or services, just as you can remove obstacles that keep your team from achieving business goals.

Design Thinking

Design thinking , as described by Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar in the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , is a human-centered , solutions-based approach to problem-solving and innovation. Originally created for product design, design thinking’s use case has evolved . It’s now used to solve internal business problems, too.

The design thinking process has four stages :

4 Stages of Design Thinking

  • Clarify: Clarify a problem through research and feedback from those impacted.
  • Ideate: Armed with new insights, generate as many solutions as possible.
  • Develop: Combine and cull your ideas into a short list of viable, feasible, and desirable options before building prototypes (if making physical products) and creating a plan of action (if solving an intangible problem).
  • Implement: Execute the strongest idea, ensuring clear communication with all stakeholders about its potential value and deliberate reasoning.

Using this framework, you can generate innovative ideas that wouldn’t have surfaced otherwise.

Creative Problem-Solving

Another, less structured approach to challenges is creative problem-solving , which employs a series of exercises to explore open-ended solutions and develop new perspectives. This is especially useful when a problem’s root cause has yet to be defined.

You can use creative problem-solving tools in design thinking’s “ideate” stage, which include:

  • Brainstorming: Instruct everyone to develop as many ideas as possible in an allotted time frame without passing judgment.
  • Divergent thinking exercises: Rather than arriving at the same conclusion (convergent thinking), instruct everyone to come up with a unique idea for a given prompt (divergent thinking). This type of exercise helps avoid the tendency to agree with others’ ideas without considering alternatives.
  • Alternate worlds: Ask your team to consider how various personas would manage the problem. For instance, how would a pilot approach it? What about a young child? What about a seasoned engineer?

It can be tempting to fall back on how problems have been solved before, especially if they worked well. However, if you’re striving for innovation, relying on existing systems can stunt your company’s growth.

Related: How to Be a More Creative Problem-Solver at Work: 8 Tips

Why Is Problem-Solving Important for Leaders?

While obstacles’ specifics vary between industries, strong problem-solving skills are crucial for leaders in any field.

Whether building a new product or dealing with internal issues, you’re bound to come up against challenges. Having frameworks and tools at your disposal when they arise can turn issues into opportunities.

As a leader, it’s rarely your responsibility to solve a problem single-handedly, so it’s crucial to know how to empower employees to work together to find the best solution.

Your job is to guide them through each step of the framework and set the parameters and prompts within which they can be creative. Then, you can develop a list of ideas together, test the best ones, and implement the chosen solution.

Related: 5 Design Thinking Skills for Business Professionals

4 Problem-Solving Skills All Leaders Need

1. problem framing.

One key skill for any leader is framing problems in a way that makes sense for their organization. Problem framing is defined in Design Thinking and Innovation as determining the scope, context, and perspective of the problem you’re trying to solve.

“Before you begin to generate solutions for your problem, you must always think hard about how you’re going to frame that problem,” Datar says in the course.

For instance, imagine you work for a company that sells children’s sneakers, and sales have plummeted. When framing the problem, consider:

  • What is the children’s sneaker market like right now?
  • Should we improve the quality of our sneakers?
  • Should we assess all children’s footwear?
  • Is this a marketing issue for children’s sneakers specifically?
  • Is this a bigger issue that impacts how we should market or produce all footwear?

While there’s no one right way to frame a problem, how you do can impact the solutions you generate. It’s imperative to accurately frame problems to align with organizational priorities and ensure your team generates useful ideas for your firm.

To solve a problem, you need to empathize with those impacted by it. Empathy is the ability to understand others’ emotions and experiences. While many believe empathy is a fixed trait, it’s a skill you can strengthen through practice.

When confronted with a problem, consider whom it impacts. Returning to the children’s sneaker example, think of who’s affected:

  • Your organization’s employees, because sales are down
  • The customers who typically buy your sneakers
  • The children who typically wear your sneakers

Empathy is required to get to the problem’s root and consider each group’s perspective. Assuming someone’s perspective often isn’t accurate, so the best way to get that information is by collecting user feedback.

For instance, if you asked customers who typically buy your children’s sneakers why they’ve stopped, they could say, “A new brand of children’s sneakers came onto the market that have soles with more traction. I want my child to be as safe as possible, so I bought those instead.”

When someone shares their feelings and experiences, you have an opportunity to empathize with them. This can yield solutions to their problem that directly address its root and shows you care. In this case, you may design a new line of children’s sneakers with extremely grippy soles for added safety, knowing that’s what your customers care most about.

Related: 3 Effective Methods for Assessing Customer Needs

3. Breaking Cognitive Fixedness

Cognitive fixedness is a state of mind in which you examine situations through the lens of past experiences. This locks you into one mindset rather than allowing you to consider alternative possibilities.

For instance, your cognitive fixedness may make you think rubber is the only material for sneaker treads. What else could you use? Is there a grippier alternative you haven’t considered?

Problem-solving is all about overcoming cognitive fixedness. You not only need to foster this skill in yourself but among your team.

4. Creating a Psychologically Safe Environment

As a leader, it’s your job to create an environment conducive to problem-solving. In a psychologically safe environment, all team members feel comfortable bringing ideas to the table, which are likely influenced by their personal opinions and experiences.

If employees are penalized for “bad” ideas or chastised for questioning long-held procedures and systems, innovation has no place to take root.

By employing the design thinking framework and creative problem-solving exercises, you can foster a setting in which your team feels comfortable sharing ideas and new, innovative solutions can grow.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

How to Build Problem-Solving Skills

The most obvious answer to how to build your problem-solving skills is perhaps the most intimidating: You must practice.

Again and again, you’ll encounter challenges, use creative problem-solving tools and design thinking frameworks, and assess results to learn what to do differently next time.

While most of your practice will occur within your organization, you can learn in a lower-stakes setting by taking an online course, such as Design Thinking and Innovation . Datar guides you through each tool and framework, presenting real-world business examples to help you envision how you would approach the same types of problems in your organization.

Are you interested in uncovering innovative solutions for your organization’s business problems? Explore Design Thinking and Innovation —one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses —to learn how to leverage proven frameworks and tools to solve challenges. Not sure which course is right for you? Download our free flowchart .

problem solving skills in leader

About the Author

problem solving skills in leader

Problem-solving in Leadership: How to Master the 5 Key Skills

The role of problem-solving in enhancing team morale, the right approach to problem-solving in leadership, developing problem-solving skills in leadership, leadership problem-solving examples.

Other Related Blogs

What’s the Role of Problem-solving in Leadership?

  • Getting to the root of the issue:  First, Sarah starts by looking at the numbers for the past few months. She identifies the products for which sales are falling. She then attempts to correlate it with the seasonal nature of consumption or if there is any other cause hiding behind the numbers. 
  • Identifying the sources of the problem:  In the next step, Sarah attempts to understand why sales are falling. Is it the entry of a new competitor in the next neighborhood, or have consumption preferences changed over time? She asks some of her present and past customers for feedback to get more ideas. 
  • Putting facts on the table:  Next up, Sarah talks to her sales team to understand their issues. They could be lacking training or facing heavy workloads, impacting their productivity. Together, they come up with a few ideas to improve sales. 
  • Selection and application:  Finally, Sarah and her team pick up a few ideas to work on after analyzing their costs and benefits. They ensure adequate resources, and Sarah provides support by guiding them wherever needed during the planning and execution stage. 
  • Identifying the root cause of the problem.
  • Brainstorming possible solutions.
  • Evaluating those solutions to select the best one.
  • Implementing it.

Problem-solving in leadership

  • Analytical thinking:   Analytical thinking skills refer to a leader’s abilities that help them analyze, study, and understand complex problems. It allows them to dive deeper into the issues impacting their teams and ensures that they can identify the causes accurately. 
  • Critical Thinking:  Critical thinking skills ensure leaders can think beyond the obvious. They enable leaders to question assumptions, break free from biases, and analyze situations and facts for accuracy. 
  • Creativity:  Problems are often not solved straightaway. Leaders need to think out of the box and traverse unconventional routes. Creativity lies at the center of this idea of thinking outside the box and creating pathways where none are apparent. 
  • Decision-making:  Cool, you have three ways to go. But where to head? That’s where decision-making comes into play – fine-tuning analysis and making the choices after weighing the pros and cons well. 
  • Effective Communication:  Last but not at the end lies effective communication that brings together multiple stakeholders to solve a problem. It is an essential skill to collaborate with all the parties in any issue. Leaders need communication skills to share their ideas and gain support for them.

How do Leaders Solve Problems?

Business turnaround, crisis management, team building.

discussing problem solving with merlin

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Why is problem solving important?

What is problem-solving skills in management, how do you develop problem-solving skills.

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problem solving skills in leader


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The Power of Leaders Who Focus on Solving Problems

  • Deborah Ancona
  • Hal Gregersen

problem solving skills in leader

Can you get people excited about the problems that excite you?

There’s a new kind of leadership taking hold in organizations. Strikingly, these new leaders don’t like to be called leaders, and none has any expectation that they will attract “followers”  personally  — by dint of their charisma, status in a hierarchy, or access to resources. Instead, their method is to get others excited about whatever problem they have identified as ripe for a novel solution. Having fallen in love with a problem, they step up to leadership — but only reluctantly and only as necessary to get it solved. Leadership becomes an intermittent activity as people with enthusiasm and expertise step up as needed, and readily step aside when, based on the needs of the project, another team member’s strengths are more central. Rather than being pure generalists, leaders pursue their own deep expertise, while gaining enough familiarity with other knowledge realms to make the necessary connections. They expect to be involved in a series of initiatives with contributors fluidly assembling and disassembling.

In front of a packed room of MIT students and alumni, Vivienne Ming is holding forth in a style all her own. “Embrace cyborgs,” she calls out, as she clicks to a slide that raises eyebrows even in this tech-smitten crowd. “ Really . Fifteen to 25 years from now, cognitive neuroprosthetics will fundamentally change the definition of what it means to be human.”

problem solving skills in leader

  • Deborah Ancona is the Seley Distinguished Professor of Management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the founder of the MIT Leadership Center.
  • Hal Gregersen is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management , a globally recognized expert in navigating rapid change, and a Thinkers50 ranked management thinker. He is the author of Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life and the coauthor of The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators .

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Problem-solving skills in leadership

Do you find yourself fighting fires on a daily basis it’s time to sharpen your problem-solving skills to become a more effective leader..

problem solving skills in leader

What is problem solving in leadership?

To explain how problem solving relates to leadership, it’s best to begin with a basic definition. The Oxford English Dictionary describes problem solving as “the action of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues”.

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) adds a little more color to this. It defines a problem as “the distance between how things currently are and the way they should be. Problem solving forms the ‘bridge’ between these two elements. In order to close the gap, you need to understand the way things are (problem) and the way they ought to be (solution).”

In the workplace, problem solving means dealing with issues or challenges that arise in the course of everyday operations. This could be anything from production delays and customer complaints to skills shortages and employee conflict .

For leaders, the objective is to bring clarity and purpose to problem solving in a way that makes sense for the organization. While the leader has the final say, finding solutions is a collaborative effort that should involve key stakeholders, including employees.

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problem solving skills in leader

The process of fixing problems

Problem solving leadership should follow these four steps:

Identify the root cause of the problem – do this through fact-finding and getting feedback from those involved.

Brainstorm possible solutions – get ideas from as many people as you can to get a range of perspectives.

Evaluate solutions – draw up a shortlist of workable options and choose the best one.

Implement and evaluate your plan of action – communicate your solution with all stakeholders and explain your reasoning.

As businesses face increasingly complex challenges, some leaders are embracing what the MIT Sloan School of Management calls ‘problem-led leadership’. Instead of concentrating on managing their people, they inspire others through their enthusiasm to solve ‘cool’ problems. While this leadership style won’t be right for every situation, it can work well where innovation and entrepreneurship are needed.

Leaders who problem-solve effectively can improve efficiency , reduce costs, increase customer satisfaction and achieve their strategic goals. If left unresolved, however, problems can spiral and ultimately affect the overall health and performance of your business.

Why is problem solving important in leadership?

The importance of leadership problem-solving skills shouldn’t be underestimated. When you think about it, businesses are beset by processes and interactions that don’t work as well as they could. Having the knowhow – not to mention determination – to overcome such obstacles is vital to make workplaces better for everyone. In fact, a 2022 survey shows that problem solving is among the top five skills UK employees look for in a leader.

Learning how to solve problems proficiently can benefit your organization in many ways. It can help you:

Make better decisions

Being able to solve complex problems with clarity and a rational mindset helps with decision-making. It gives you the confidence to weigh up the pros and cons of each decision before making a final call, without jumping to the wrong conclusion. This ensures the choices you make are right for your team and organization as a whole.

Overcome challenges

No matter how tight a ship you run, you’re always going to come up against obstacles. Challenges are a way of life for businesses, however successful they are.

A leader with good problem-solving skills is able to anticipate issues and have measures in place to deal with them if and when they arise. But they also have the ability to think on their feet and adapt their strategies if needed.

Inspire creativity and innovation

Creativity is useful when trying to solve problems, particularly ones you haven’t experienced before. Leaders who think differently can be great innovators . But they also empower their teams to think outside the box too by creating a safe, non-judgmental environment where all ideas are welcome.

Encourage collaboration

A problem shared is a problem halved, so the saying goes. Successful leaders recognize that problem solving alone is less beneficial than problem solving with a team. This inspires a culture of collaboration , not just between leaders and their team members but between colleagues working together on projects.

Build trust

When your team members know they can rely on you to identify and resolve issues quickly and effectively, it builds trust. They’re also more likely to feel comfortable talking to you if they have a problem of their own that they’re struggling with.

If they’re worried about repercussions, they may avoid sharing it with you. Lack of trust is still an issue in many organizations, with 40% of frontline staff saying they don’t have faith in their leadership, according to Qualtrics .

Reduce risk

Being able to anticipate potential risks and put measures in place to mitigate them makes you better equipped to protect your organization from harm. Having good problem-solving skills in leadership allows you to make informed decisions and avoid costly mistakes, even in times of uncertainty.

Boost morale

Leaders who approach problem solving with positivity and calmness are crucial to keeping team morale high . No one wants a leader who panics at the first sign of trouble. Workers want to feel reassured that they have someone capable in charge who can steer them through times of crisis.

What problems do leaders face?

As a leader, you’re likely to face all manner of setbacks and challenges. In fact, you probably find that hardly a day goes by without some kind of issue cropping up.

Common problems faced by leaders often involve communication barriers, team disagreements, production delays and missed financial targets. To give you an example, below are three common scenarios you might face in the workplace and how to tackle them.

Conflicts between team members

Problem: Cliques have developed and tensions are affecting communication so your team isn’t working as effectively as it could be.

Solution: Settle disputes by encouraging open and honest communication among all team members. Establish roles where each person’s responsibilities and expectations are clearly defined, and hold regular team building sessions to promote unity and togetherness.

Outdated technology hampering production

Problem: Hybrid and remote staff don’t have the right tools to do their job properly, and can’t keep track of who’s working on what, when and from where.

Solution: Evaluate your existing technology and upgrade to newer software and devices, getting feedback from your employees on what they need (52% of workers say the software related to their job is dated and difficult to use). Use a platform with apps that allow teams to collaborate and securely access work information from anywhere.

Customer service complaints

Problem: Customer response times are too slow – your team is taking too long to answer the phone and respond to emails, causing a rise in complaints.

Solution: Establish standard practice for what to do from the moment a customer query is received. Automate repetitive tasks and enable your customers to reach you via multiple channels including email, web chat, phone, social media and text.

What problem-solving skills do leaders need?

Problem solving is something we learn through experience, often by getting it wrong the first time. It requires continual learning, curiosity and agility so you develop a good instinct for what to do when things go wrong. Time is a great teacher, but leadership problem-solving skills can also be honed through workshops, mentoring and training programs.

Some of the key skills leaders need to solve problems include:

Effective communication

Problems can cause anxiety, but it’s vital to stay calm so you don’t transmit a feeling of panic to others. It’s important to establish the facts before clearly relaying the problem to key stakeholders. You’ll also need to inspire the people who are working on the solution to remain focused on the task in hand until it’s resolved. Sometimes, this may involve giving critical feedback and making team members more accountable.

Transparency is key here. When you don’t have open and honest communication across your organization, you develop silos – which can generate more issues than need fixing.

Analytical insight

Your objective should be to find the root cause of the problem. That way, you can find a permanent solution rather than simply papering over the cracks. You’ll need to assess to what extent the issue has affected the overall business by analyzing data, speaking to those involved and looking for distinct patterns of behavior.

Analytical thinking is also important when proposing solutions and taking what you believe to be the right course of action.

Promoting a culture of psychological safety

It’s a leader’s responsibility to create an environment conducive to problem solving. In a safe, open and inclusive workplace, all team members feel comfortable bringing their ideas to the table. No one feels judged or ridiculed for their contributions. Nor do they feel dismissed for questioning the effectiveness of long-established processes and systems.

Not playing the blame game

Mistakes happen.They’re a normal part of growth and development. Instead of pointing fingers when things go wrong, see it as a learning opportunity.

Although you need to identify the cause of an error or problem to solve it effectively – and give feedback where needed – it’s not the same as placing blame. Instead, work towards a solution that ensures the same mistakes don’t keep being repeated.

Emotional intelligence

One of the most important problem-solving skills for leaders is emotional intelligence – the ability to understand emotions and empathize with others. This is crucial when recognizing employees’ problems. An EY Consulting survey found that 90% of US workers believe empathetic leadership leads to greater job satisfaction.

If you approach a problem with anger and frustration, you might make a rash decision or overlook important information. If, on the other hand, you stay calm and measured, you’ll be more inclined to seek feedback to get a broader view of the issue.

A flexible mindset

Problem solving works best when you keep an open mind and aren’t afraid to change direction. Sometimes you’ll need to find a better or more innovative approach to overcoming challenges. A leader with a flexible mindset is always receptive to new ideas and other viewpoints.

It’s clear that problem solving is an essential skill for any leader to have in their armory. So, the next time you face a challenge, take a breath and embrace the opportunity to put your problem-solving leadership abilities to the test.

Keep reading

What is leadership and why is it so important.

  • Why successful leadership depends on a growth mindset
  • How to transition from manager to leader

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Problem Solving and Decision Making - Two Essential Skills of a Good Leader

Darren Matthews

Problem solving and decision making are two fascinating skillsets. We call them out as two separate skills – and they are – but they also make use of the same core attributes.

They feed on a need to communicate well, both through questioning and listening, and be patient and not rushing both processes through. Thus, the greatest challenge any leader faces when it comes to solving problems and decision making is when the pressure of time comes into play. But as Robert Schuller highlights in his quote, allowing problem-solving to become the decision means you’ll never break free from the problem.

“Never bring the problem-solving stage into the decision-making stage. Otherwise, you surrender yourself to the problem rather than the solution.”—Robert H. Schuller

So how does a leader avoid this trap? How do they ensure the problem solving doesn’t become the be-all and end-all?

The 7 steps of Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making

A vital hurdle every leader must overcome is to avoid the impulsive urge to make quick decisions . Often when confronted with a problem, leaders or managers fall back in past behaviours. Urgency creates pressure to act quickly as a result, the problem still exists, just side-lined until it rears its ugly head again.

Good problem solving opens opportunity. A notable example of this is the first principles thinking executed by the likes of Elon Musk and others. Understanding the fundamentals blocks of a process and the problem it’s creating can lead to not just the problem but accelerate beyond it.

So, to avoid the trap, and use problem solving and decision making effectively , you should embody yourself with the following seven steps.

1.      What is the problem?

Often, especially in time-critical situations, people don’t define the problem. Some label themselves as fire-fighters, just content with dowsing out the flames. It is a reactionary behaviour and one commonplace with under-trained leaders. As great as some fire-fighters are, they can only put out so many fires at one time, often becoming a little industry.

The better approach is to define the problem, and this means asking the following questions:

  • What is happening? ( What makes you think there is a problem?)
  • Where is it taking place?
  • How is it happening?
  • When is it happening?
  • Why is it happening?
  • With whom is it happening? (This isn’t a blame game…all you want to do is isolate the problem to a granular level.)
  • Define what you understand to be the problem in writing by using as few sentences as possible. (Look at the answers to your what, where, why, when, and how questions.)

2.      What are the potential causes?

Having defined the problem it is now time to find out what might be causing the problem. Your leadership skills: your communication skills need to be strong, as you look to gather input from your team and those involved in the problem.

Key points:

  • Talk to those involved individually. Groupthink is a common cause of blindness to the problem, especially if there is blame culture within the business.
  • Document what you’ve heard and what you think is the root cause is.
  • Be inquisitive. You don’t know what you don’t know, so get the input of others and open yourself up to the feedback you’ll need to solve this problem.

3.      What other ways can you overcome the problem?

 Sometimes, getting to the root cause can take time. Of course, you can’t ignore it, but it is important to produce a plan to temporarily fix the problem. In business, a problem will be costing the business money, whether it be sales or profit. So, a temporary fix allows the business to move forward, providing it neutralises the downside of the original problem.

4.      How will you resolve the problem?

At this stage, you still don’t know what the actual problem is. All you have is a definition of the problem which is a diagnosis of the issue. You will have the team’s input, as well as your opinions as to what the next steps should be.

If you don’t, then at this stage you should think about reassessing the problem. One way forward could be to become more granular and adopt a first-principles approach.

  • Break the problem down into its core parts
  • What forms the foundational blocks of the system in operation?
  • Ask powerful questions to get to the truth of the problem
  • How do the parts fit together?
  • What was the original purpose of the system working in this way?
  • Name and separate your assumptions from the facts
  • Remind yourself of the goal and create a new solution

Solve hard problems with inversion

Another way is to invert the problem using the following technique:

1. Understand the problem

Every solution starts with developing a clear understanding of what the problem is. In this instance, some clarity of the issue is vital.

2. Ask the opposite question

Convention wisdom means we see the world logically. But what if you turned the logical outcome on its head. Asking the opposite questions brings an unfamiliar perspective.

3. Answer the opposite question

It seems a simple logic, but you can’t just ask the opposite question and not answer it. You must think through the dynamics that come from asking the question. You're looking for alternative viewpoints and thoughts you've not had before.

4. Join your answers up with your original problem

This is where solutions are born. You’re taking your conventional wisdom and aligning it with the opposite perspective. So often the blockers seen in the original problem become part of the solution.

5.      Define a plan to either fix the problem permanently or temporarily

You now know the problem. You understand the fix, and you are a position to assess the risks involved.

Assessing the risks means considering the worst-case scenarios and ensuring you avoid them. Your plan should take into the following points:

  • Is there any downtime to implementing the solution? If so, how long, and how much will it cost? Do you have backup systems in place to minimise the impact?
  • If the risk is too great, consider a temporary fix which keeps current operations in place and gives you time to further prepare for a permanent fix.
  • Document the plan and share it with all the relevant stakeholders. Communication is key.

Here we see the two skills of problem solving and decision making coming together. The two skills are vital to managing business risks as well as solving the problem.

6.      Monitor and measure the plan

Having evolved through the five steps to this stage, you mustn’t take your eye off the ball as it were.

  • Define timelines and assess progress
  • Report to the stakeholders, ensuring everyone is aware of progress or any delays.
  • If the plan doesn’t deliver, ask why? Learn from failure.

7.      Have you fixed the problem?

Don’t forget the problem you started with. Have you fixed it? You might find it wasn’t a problem at all. You will have learnt a lot about the part of the business where the problem occurred, and improvements will have taken place.

Use the opportunity to assess what worked, what didn’t, and what would have helped. These are three good questions to give you some perspective on the process you’ve undertaken.

Problem solving and decision making in unison

Throughout the process of problem solving, you’re making decisions. Right from the beginning when the problem first becomes clear, you have a choice to either react – firefight or to investigate. This progresses as move onto risk assessing the problem and then defining the solutions to overcome the issue.

Throughout the process, the critical element is to make decisions with the correct information to hand. Finding out the facts, as well as defeating your assumptions are all part of the process of making the right decision.

Problem solving and decision making – a process 

Problem solving isn’t easy. It becomes even more challenging when you have decisions to make. The seven steps I’ve outlined will give you the ability to investigate and diagnose the problem correctly.

  • What is the problem?
  • What are the potential causes?
  • What other ways can you overcome the problem?
  • How will you resolve the problem?
  • Define a plan to either fix the problem permanently or temporarily.
  • Monitor and measure the plan.
  • Have you fixed the problem?

Of course, this logical step by step process might not enable you to diagnose the issue at hand. Some problems can be extremely hard, and an alternative approach might help. In this instance, first principles thinking or using the power of inversion are excellent ways to dig into hard problems. Problem solving and decision making are two skills every good leader needs. Using them together is an effective way to work.

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Problem Solving Ability

Definition: anticipating, analyzing, diagnosing, and resolving problems..

Leaders with an aptitude for problem-solving have the ability to analyze, diagnose and deal with problems effectively. Whether the problem is linear and “tame,” or nonlinear and “wicked,” adept problem solvers have a natural propensity to discover and help lead others to solutions. The leaders of tomorrow must learn to be collaborative problem-solving facilitators, instead of solitary master problem-solvers. Problem-solving ability is a multi-faceted competency that uses other skills discussed throughout the Leaders Are Clear Thinkers section, including conceptual thinking, planning and organization, and creativity. In this section you’ll discover resources and activities to sharpen your problem-solving skills.

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Effective problem solving is all about using the right process and following a plan tailored to the issue at hand. Recognizing your team or organization has an issue isn’t enough to come up with effective problem solving strategies. 

To truly understand a problem and develop appropriate solutions, you will want to follow a solid process, follow the necessary problem solving steps, and bring all of your problem solving skills to the table.  

We’ll first guide you through the seven step problem solving process you and your team can use to effectively solve complex business challenges. We’ll also look at what problem solving strategies you can employ with your team when looking for a way to approach the process. We’ll then discuss the problem solving skills you need to be more effective at solving problems, complete with an activity from the SessionLab library you can use to develop that skill in your team.

Let’s get to it! 

What is a problem solving process?

  • What are the problem solving steps I need to follow?

Problem solving strategies

What skills do i need to be an effective problem solver, how can i improve my problem solving skills.

Solving problems is like baking a cake. You can go straight into the kitchen without a recipe or the right ingredients and do your best, but the end result is unlikely to be very tasty!

Using a process to bake a cake allows you to use the best ingredients without waste, collect the right tools, account for allergies, decide whether it is a birthday or wedding cake, and then bake efficiently and on time. The result is a better cake that is fit for purpose, tastes better and has created less mess in the kitchen. Also, it should have chocolate sprinkles. Having a step by step process to solve organizational problems allows you to go through each stage methodically and ensure you are trying to solve the right problems and select the most appropriate, effective solutions.

What are the problem solving steps I need to follow? 

All problem solving processes go through a number of steps in order to move from identifying a problem to resolving it.

Depending on your problem solving model and who you ask, there can be anything between four and nine problem solving steps you should follow in order to find the right solution. Whatever framework you and your group use, there are some key items that should be addressed in order to have an effective process.

We’ve looked at problem solving processes from sources such as the American Society for Quality and their four step approach , and Mediate ‘s six step process. By reflecting on those and our own problem solving processes, we’ve come up with a sequence of seven problem solving steps we feel best covers everything you need in order to effectively solve problems.

seven step problem solving process

1. Problem identification 

The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first. Problem solving activities used at this stage often have a focus on creating frank, open discussion so that potential problems can be brought to the surface.

2. Problem analysis 

Though this step is not a million miles from problem identification, problem analysis deserves to be considered separately. It can often be an overlooked part of the process and is instrumental when it comes to developing effective solutions.

The process of problem analysis means ensuring that the problem you are seeking to solve is the right problem . As part of this stage, you may look deeper and try to find the root cause of a specific problem at a team or organizational level.

Remember that problem solving strategies should not only be focused on putting out fires in the short term but developing long term solutions that deal with the root cause of organizational challenges. 

Whatever your approach, analyzing a problem is crucial in being able to select an appropriate solution and the problem solving skills deployed in this stage are beneficial for the rest of the process and ensuring the solutions you create are fit for purpose.

3. Solution generation

Once your group has nailed down the particulars of the problem you wish to solve, you want to encourage a free flow of ideas connecting to solving that problem. This can take the form of problem solving games that encourage creative thinking or problem solving activities designed to produce working prototypes of possible solutions. 

The key to ensuring the success of this stage of the problem solving process is to encourage quick, creative thinking and create an open space where all ideas are considered. The best solutions can come from unlikely places and by using problem solving techniques that celebrate invention, you might come up with solution gold. 

4. Solution development

No solution is likely to be perfect right out of the gate. It’s important to discuss and develop the solutions your group has come up with over the course of following the previous problem solving steps in order to arrive at the best possible solution. Problem solving games used in this stage involve lots of critical thinking, measuring potential effort and impact, and looking at possible solutions analytically. 

During this stage, you will often ask your team to iterate and improve upon your frontrunning solutions and develop them further. Remember that problem solving strategies always benefit from a multitude of voices and opinions, and not to let ego get involved when it comes to choosing which solutions to develop and take further.

Finding the best solution is the goal of all problem solving workshops and here is the place to ensure that your solution is well thought out, sufficiently robust and fit for purpose. 

5. Decision making 

Nearly there! Once your group has reached consensus and selected a solution that applies to the problem at hand you have some decisions to make. You will want to work on allocating ownership of the project, figure out who will do what, how the success of the solution will be measured and decide the next course of action.

The decision making stage is a part of the problem solving process that can get missed or taken as for granted. Fail to properly allocate roles and plan out how a solution will actually be implemented and it less likely to be successful in solving the problem.

Have clear accountabilities, actions, timeframes, and follow-ups. Make these decisions and set clear next-steps in the problem solving workshop so that everyone is aligned and you can move forward effectively as a group. 

Ensuring that you plan for the roll-out of a solution is one of the most important problem solving steps. Without adequate planning or oversight, it can prove impossible to measure success or iterate further if the problem was not solved. 

6. Solution implementation 

This is what we were waiting for! All problem solving strategies have the end goal of implementing a solution and solving a problem in mind. 

Remember that in order for any solution to be successful, you need to help your group through all of the previous problem solving steps thoughtfully. Only then can you ensure that you are solving the right problem but also that you have developed the correct solution and can then successfully implement and measure the impact of that solution.

Project management and communication skills are key here – your solution may need to adjust when out in the wild or you might discover new challenges along the way.

7. Solution evaluation 

So you and your team developed a great solution to a problem and have a gut feeling its been solved. Work done, right? Wrong. All problem solving strategies benefit from evaluation, consideration, and feedback. You might find that the solution does not work for everyone, might create new problems, or is potentially so successful that you will want to roll it out to larger teams or as part of other initiatives. 

None of that is possible without taking the time to evaluate the success of the solution you developed in your problem solving model and adjust if necessary.

Remember that the problem solving process is often iterative and it can be common to not solve complex issues on the first try. Even when this is the case, you and your team will have generated learning that will be important for future problem solving workshops or in other parts of the organization. 

It’s worth underlining how important record keeping is throughout the problem solving process. If a solution didn’t work, you need to have the data and records to see why that was the case. If you go back to the drawing board, notes from the previous workshop can help save time. Data and insight is invaluable at every stage of the problem solving process and this one is no different.

Problem solving workshops made easy

problem solving skills in leader

Problem solving strategies are methods of approaching and facilitating the process of problem-solving with a set of techniques , actions, and processes. Different strategies are more effective if you are trying to solve broad problems such as achieving higher growth versus more focused problems like, how do we improve our customer onboarding process?

Broadly, the problem solving steps outlined above should be included in any problem solving strategy though choosing where to focus your time and what approaches should be taken is where they begin to differ. You might find that some strategies ask for the problem identification to be done prior to the session or that everything happens in the course of a one day workshop.

The key similarity is that all good problem solving strategies are structured and designed. Four hours of open discussion is never going to be as productive as a four-hour workshop designed to lead a group through a problem solving process.

Good problem solving strategies are tailored to the team, organization and problem you will be attempting to solve. Here are some example problem solving strategies you can learn from or use to get started.

Use a workshop to lead a team through a group process

Often, the first step to solving problems or organizational challenges is bringing a group together effectively. Most teams have the tools, knowledge, and expertise necessary to solve their challenges – they just need some guidance in how to use leverage those skills and a structure and format that allows people to focus their energies.

Facilitated workshops are one of the most effective ways of solving problems of any scale. By designing and planning your workshop carefully, you can tailor the approach and scope to best fit the needs of your team and organization. 

Problem solving workshop

  • Creating a bespoke, tailored process
  • Tackling problems of any size
  • Building in-house workshop ability and encouraging their use

Workshops are an effective strategy for solving problems. By using tried and test facilitation techniques and methods, you can design and deliver a workshop that is perfectly suited to the unique variables of your organization. You may only have the capacity for a half-day workshop and so need a problem solving process to match. 

By using our session planner tool and importing methods from our library of 700+ facilitation techniques, you can create the right problem solving workshop for your team. It might be that you want to encourage creative thinking or look at things from a new angle to unblock your groups approach to problem solving. By tailoring your workshop design to the purpose, you can help ensure great results.

One of the main benefits of a workshop is the structured approach to problem solving. Not only does this mean that the workshop itself will be successful, but many of the methods and techniques will help your team improve their working processes outside of the workshop. 

We believe that workshops are one of the best tools you can use to improve the way your team works together. Start with a problem solving workshop and then see what team building, culture or design workshops can do for your organization!

Run a design sprint

Great for: 

  • aligning large, multi-discipline teams
  • quickly designing and testing solutions
  • tackling large, complex organizational challenges and breaking them down into smaller tasks

By using design thinking principles and methods, a design sprint is a great way of identifying, prioritizing and prototyping solutions to long term challenges that can help solve major organizational problems with quick action and measurable results.

Some familiarity with design thinking is useful, though not integral, and this strategy can really help a team align if there is some discussion around which problems should be approached first. 

The stage-based structure of the design sprint is also very useful for teams new to design thinking.  The inspiration phase, where you look to competitors that have solved your problem, and the rapid prototyping and testing phases are great for introducing new concepts that will benefit a team in all their future work. 

It can be common for teams to look inward for solutions and so looking to the market for solutions you can iterate on can be very productive. Instilling an agile prototyping and testing mindset can also be great when helping teams move forwards – generating and testing solutions quickly can help save time in the long run and is also pretty exciting!

Break problems down into smaller issues

Organizational challenges and problems are often complicated and large scale in nature. Sometimes, trying to resolve such an issue in one swoop is simply unachievable or overwhelming. Try breaking down such problems into smaller issues that you can work on step by step. You may not be able to solve the problem of churning customers off the bat, but you can work with your team to identify smaller effort but high impact elements and work on those first.

This problem solving strategy can help a team generate momentum, prioritize and get some easy wins. It’s also a great strategy to employ with teams who are just beginning to learn how to approach the problem solving process. If you want some insight into a way to employ this strategy, we recommend looking at our design sprint template below!

Use guiding frameworks or try new methodologies

Some problems are best solved by introducing a major shift in perspective or by using new methodologies that encourage your team to think differently.

Props and tools such as Methodkit , which uses a card-based toolkit for facilitation, or Lego Serious Play can be great ways to engage your team and find an inclusive, democratic problem solving strategy. Remember that play and creativity are great tools for achieving change and whatever the challenge, engaging your participants can be very effective where other strategies may have failed.

LEGO Serious Play

  • Improving core problem solving skills
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Encouraging creative solutions

LEGO Serious Play is a problem solving methodology designed to get participants thinking differently by using 3D models and kinesthetic learning styles. By physically building LEGO models based on questions and exercises, participants are encouraged to think outside of the box and create their own responses. 

Collaborate LEGO Serious Play exercises are also used to encourage communication and build problem solving skills in a group. By using this problem solving process, you can often help different kinds of learners and personality types contribute and unblock organizational problems with creative thinking. 

Problem solving strategies like LEGO Serious Play are super effective at helping a team solve more skills-based problems such as communication between teams or a lack of creative thinking. Some problems are not suited to LEGO Serious Play and require a different problem solving strategy.

Card Decks and Method Kits

  • New facilitators or non-facilitators 
  • Approaching difficult subjects with a simple, creative framework
  • Engaging those with varied learning styles

Card decks and method kids are great tools for those new to facilitation or for whom facilitation is not the primary role. Card decks such as the emotional culture deck can be used for complete workshops and in many cases, can be used right out of the box. Methodkit has a variety of kits designed for scenarios ranging from personal development through to personas and global challenges so you can find the right deck for your particular needs.

Having an easy to use framework that encourages creativity or a new approach can take some of the friction or planning difficulties out of the workshop process and energize a team in any setting. Simplicity is the key with these methods. By ensuring everyone on your team can get involved and engage with the process as quickly as possible can really contribute to the success of your problem solving strategy.

Source external advice

Looking to peers, experts and external facilitators can be a great way of approaching the problem solving process. Your team may not have the necessary expertise, insights of experience to tackle some issues, or you might simply benefit from a fresh perspective. Some problems may require bringing together an entire team, and coaching managers or team members individually might be the right approach. Remember that not all problems are best resolved in the same manner.

If you’re a solo entrepreneur, peer groups, coaches and mentors can also be invaluable at not only solving specific business problems, but in providing a support network for resolving future challenges. One great approach is to join a Mastermind Group and link up with like-minded individuals and all grow together. Remember that however you approach the sourcing of external advice, do so thoughtfully, respectfully and honestly. Reciprocate where you can and prepare to be surprised by just how kind and helpful your peers can be!

Mastermind Group

  • Solo entrepreneurs or small teams with low capacity
  • Peer learning and gaining outside expertise
  • Getting multiple external points of view quickly

Problem solving in large organizations with lots of skilled team members is one thing, but how about if you work for yourself or in a very small team without the capacity to get the most from a design sprint or LEGO Serious Play session? 

A mastermind group – sometimes known as a peer advisory board – is where a group of people come together to support one another in their own goals, challenges, and businesses. Each participant comes to the group with their own purpose and the other members of the group will help them create solutions, brainstorm ideas, and support one another. 

Mastermind groups are very effective in creating an energized, supportive atmosphere that can deliver meaningful results. Learning from peers from outside of your organization or industry can really help unlock new ways of thinking and drive growth. Access to the experience and skills of your peers can be invaluable in helping fill the gaps in your own ability, particularly in young companies.

A mastermind group is a great solution for solo entrepreneurs, small teams, or for organizations that feel that external expertise or fresh perspectives will be beneficial for them. It is worth noting that Mastermind groups are often only as good as the participants and what they can bring to the group. Participants need to be committed, engaged and understand how to work in this context. 

Coaching and mentoring

  • Focused learning and development
  • Filling skills gaps
  • Working on a range of challenges over time

Receiving advice from a business coach or building a mentor/mentee relationship can be an effective way of resolving certain challenges. The one-to-one format of most coaching and mentor relationships can really help solve the challenges those individuals are having and benefit the organization as a result.

A great mentor can be invaluable when it comes to spotting potential problems before they arise and coming to understand a mentee very well has a host of other business benefits. You might run an internal mentorship program to help develop your team’s problem solving skills and strategies or as part of a large learning and development program. External coaches can also be an important part of your problem solving strategy, filling skills gaps for your management team or helping with specific business issues. 

Now we’ve explored the problem solving process and the steps you will want to go through in order to have an effective session, let’s look at the skills you and your team need to be more effective problem solvers.

Problem solving skills are highly sought after, whatever industry or team you work in. Organizations are keen to employ people who are able to approach problems thoughtfully and find strong, realistic solutions. Whether you are a facilitator , a team leader or a developer, being an effective problem solver is a skill you’ll want to develop.

Problem solving skills form a whole suite of techniques and approaches that an individual uses to not only identify problems but to discuss them productively before then developing appropriate solutions.

Here are some of the most important problem solving skills everyone from executives to junior staff members should learn. We’ve also included an activity or exercise from the SessionLab library that can help you and your team develop that skill. 

If you’re running a workshop or training session to try and improve problem solving skills in your team, try using these methods to supercharge your process!

Problem solving skills checklist

Active listening

Active listening is one of the most important skills anyone who works with people can possess. In short, active listening is a technique used to not only better understand what is being said by an individual, but also to be more aware of the underlying message the speaker is trying to convey. When it comes to problem solving, active listening is integral for understanding the position of every participant and to clarify the challenges, ideas and solutions they bring to the table.

Some active listening skills include:

  • Paying complete attention to the speaker.
  • Removing distractions.
  • Avoid interruption.
  • Taking the time to fully understand before preparing a rebuttal.
  • Responding respectfully and appropriately.
  • Demonstrate attentiveness and positivity with an open posture, making eye contact with the speaker, smiling and nodding if appropriate. Show that you are listening and encourage them to continue.
  • Be aware of and respectful of feelings. Judge the situation and respond appropriately. You can disagree without being disrespectful.   
  • Observe body language. 
  • Paraphrase what was said in your own words, either mentally or verbally.
  • Remain neutral. 
  • Reflect and take a moment before responding.
  • Ask deeper questions based on what is said and clarify points where necessary.   
Active Listening   #hyperisland   #skills   #active listening   #remote-friendly   This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.

Analytical skills

All problem solving models require strong analytical skills, particularly during the beginning of the process and when it comes to analyzing how solutions have performed.

Analytical skills are primarily focused on performing an effective analysis by collecting, studying and parsing data related to a problem or opportunity. 

It often involves spotting patterns, being able to see things from different perspectives and using observable facts and data to make suggestions or produce insight. 

Analytical skills are also important at every stage of the problem solving process and by having these skills, you can ensure that any ideas or solutions you create or backed up analytically and have been sufficiently thought out.

Nine Whys   #innovation   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   With breathtaking simplicity, you can rapidly clarify for individuals and a group what is essentially important in their work. You can quickly reveal when a compelling purpose is missing in a gathering and avoid moving forward without clarity. When a group discovers an unambiguous shared purpose, more freedom and more responsibility are unleashed. You have laid the foundation for spreading and scaling innovations with fidelity.


Trying to solve problems on your own is difficult. Being able to collaborate effectively, with a free exchange of ideas, to delegate and be a productive member of a team is hugely important to all problem solving strategies.

Remember that whatever your role, collaboration is integral, and in a problem solving process, you are all working together to find the best solution for everyone. 

Marshmallow challenge with debriefing   #teamwork   #team   #leadership   #collaboration   In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.


Being an effective communicator means being empathetic, clear and succinct, asking the right questions, and demonstrating active listening skills throughout any discussion or meeting. 

In a problem solving setting, you need to communicate well in order to progress through each stage of the process effectively. As a team leader, it may also fall to you to facilitate communication between parties who may not see eye to eye. Effective communication also means helping others to express themselves and be heard in a group.

Bus Trip   #feedback   #communication   #appreciation   #closing   #thiagi   #team   This is one of my favourite feedback games. I use Bus Trip at the end of a training session or a meeting, and I use it all the time. The game creates a massive amount of energy with lots of smiles, laughs, and sometimes even a teardrop or two.

Creative problem solving skills can be some of the best tools in your arsenal. Thinking creatively, being able to generate lots of ideas and come up with out of the box solutions is useful at every step of the process. 

The kinds of problems you will likely discuss in a problem solving workshop are often difficult to solve, and by approaching things in a fresh, creative manner, you can often create more innovative solutions.

Having practical creative skills is also a boon when it comes to problem solving. If you can help create quality design sketches and prototypes in record time, it can help bring a team to alignment more quickly or provide a base for further iteration.

The paper clip method   #sharing   #creativity   #warm up   #idea generation   #brainstorming   The power of brainstorming. A training for project leaders, creativity training, and to catalyse getting new solutions.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is one of the fundamental problem solving skills you’ll want to develop when working on developing solutions. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, rationalize and evaluate while being aware of personal bias, outlying factors and remaining open-minded.

Defining and analyzing problems without deploying critical thinking skills can mean you and your team go down the wrong path. Developing solutions to complex issues requires critical thinking too – ensuring your team considers all possibilities and rationally evaluating them. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Data analysis 

Though it shares lots of space with general analytical skills, data analysis skills are something you want to cultivate in their own right in order to be an effective problem solver.

Being good at data analysis doesn’t just mean being able to find insights from data, but also selecting the appropriate data for a given issue, interpreting it effectively and knowing how to model and present that data. Depending on the problem at hand, it might also include a working knowledge of specific data analysis tools and procedures. 

Having a solid grasp of data analysis techniques is useful if you’re leading a problem solving workshop but if you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Bring people into the group who has this skill set and help your team be more effective as a result.

Decision making

All problems need a solution and all solutions require that someone make the decision to implement them. Without strong decision making skills, teams can become bogged down in discussion and less effective as a result. 

Making decisions is a key part of the problem solving process. It’s important to remember that decision making is not restricted to the leadership team. Every staff member makes decisions every day and developing these skills ensures that your team is able to solve problems at any scale. Remember that making decisions does not mean leaping to the first solution but weighing up the options and coming to an informed, well thought out solution to any given problem that works for the whole team.

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow


Most complex organizational problems require multiple people to be involved in delivering the solution. Ensuring that the team and organization can depend on you to take the necessary actions and communicate where necessary is key to ensuring problems are solved effectively.

Being dependable also means working to deadlines and to brief. It is often a matter of creating trust in a team so that everyone can depend on one another to complete the agreed actions in the agreed time frame so that the team can move forward together. Being undependable can create problems of friction and can limit the effectiveness of your solutions so be sure to bear this in mind throughout a project. 

Team Purpose & Culture   #team   #hyperisland   #culture   #remote-friendly   This is an essential process designed to help teams define their purpose (why they exist) and their culture (how they work together to achieve that purpose). Defining these two things will help any team to be more focused and aligned. With support of tangible examples from other companies, the team members work as individuals and a group to codify the way they work together. The goal is a visual manifestation of both the purpose and culture that can be put up in the team’s work space.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is an important skill for any successful team member, whether communicating internally or with clients or users. In the problem solving process, emotional intelligence means being attuned to how people are feeling and thinking, communicating effectively and being self-aware of what you bring to a room. 

There are often differences of opinion when working through problem solving processes, and it can be easy to let things become impassioned or combative. Developing your emotional intelligence means being empathetic to your colleagues and managing your own emotions throughout the problem and solution process. Be kind, be thoughtful and put your points across care and attention. 

Being emotionally intelligent is a skill for life and by deploying it at work, you can not only work efficiently but empathetically. Check out the emotional culture workshop template for more!


As we’ve clarified in our facilitation skills post, facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership, and creativity by all those involved. While facilitation is a set of interrelated skills in itself, the broad definition of facilitation can be invaluable when it comes to problem solving. Leading a team through a problem solving process is made more effective if you improve and utilize facilitation skills – whether you’re a manager, team leader or external stakeholder.

The Six Thinking Hats   #creative thinking   #meeting facilitation   #problem solving   #issue resolution   #idea generation   #conflict resolution   The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and groups to separate out conflicting styles of thinking. They enable and encourage a group of people to think constructively together in exploring and implementing change, rather than using argument to fight over who is right and who is wrong.


Being flexible is a vital skill when it comes to problem solving. This does not mean immediately bowing to pressure or changing your opinion quickly: instead, being flexible is all about seeing things from new perspectives, receiving new information and factoring it into your thought process.

Flexibility is also important when it comes to rolling out solutions. It might be that other organizational projects have greater priority or require the same resources as your chosen solution. Being flexible means understanding needs and challenges across the team and being open to shifting or arranging your own schedule as necessary. Again, this does not mean immediately making way for other projects. It’s about articulating your own needs, understanding the needs of others and being able to come to a meaningful compromise.

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

Working in any group can lead to unconscious elements of groupthink or situations in which you may not wish to be entirely honest. Disagreeing with the opinions of the executive team or wishing to save the feelings of a coworker can be tricky to navigate, but being honest is absolutely vital when to comes to developing effective solutions and ensuring your voice is heard. 

Remember that being honest does not mean being brutally candid. You can deliver your honest feedback and opinions thoughtfully and without creating friction by using other skills such as emotional intelligence. 

Explore your Values   #hyperisland   #skills   #values   #remote-friendly   Your Values is an exercise for participants to explore what their most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitive feeling rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.


The problem solving process is multi-faceted and requires different approaches at certain points of the process. Taking initiative to bring problems to the attention of the team, collect data or lead the solution creating process is always valuable. You might even roadtest your own small scale solutions or brainstorm before a session. Taking initiative is particularly effective if you have good deal of knowledge in that area or have ownership of a particular project and want to get things kickstarted.

That said, be sure to remember to honor the process and work in service of the team. If you are asked to own one part of the problem solving process and you don’t complete that task because your initiative leads you to work on something else, that’s not an effective method of solving business challenges.

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.


A particularly useful problem solving skill for product owners or managers is the ability to remain impartial throughout much of the process. In practice, this means treating all points of view and ideas brought forward in a meeting equally and ensuring that your own areas of interest or ownership are not favored over others. 

There may be a stage in the process where a decision maker has to weigh the cost and ROI of possible solutions against the company roadmap though even then, ensuring that the decision made is based on merit and not personal opinion. 

Empathy map   #frame insights   #create   #design   #issue analysis   An empathy map is a tool to help a design team to empathize with the people they are designing for. You can make an empathy map for a group of people or for a persona. To be used after doing personas when more insights are needed.

Being a good leader means getting a team aligned, energized and focused around a common goal. In the problem solving process, strong leadership helps ensure that the process is efficient, that any conflicts are resolved and that a team is managed in the direction of success.

It’s common for managers or executives to assume this role in a problem solving workshop, though it’s important that the leader maintains impartiality and does not bulldoze the group in a particular direction. Remember that good leadership means working in service of the purpose and team and ensuring the workshop is a safe space for employees of any level to contribute. Take a look at our leadership games and activities post for more exercises and methods to help improve leadership in your organization.

Leadership Pizza   #leadership   #team   #remote-friendly   This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.

In the context of problem solving, mediation is important in keeping a team engaged, happy and free of conflict. When leading or facilitating a problem solving workshop, you are likely to run into differences of opinion. Depending on the nature of the problem, certain issues may be brought up that are emotive in nature. 

Being an effective mediator means helping those people on either side of such a divide are heard, listen to one another and encouraged to find common ground and a resolution. Mediating skills are useful for leaders and managers in many situations and the problem solving process is no different.

Conflict Responses   #hyperisland   #team   #issue resolution   A workshop for a team to reflect on past conflicts, and use them to generate guidelines for effective conflict handling. The workshop uses the Thomas-Killman model of conflict responses to frame a reflective discussion. Use it to open up a discussion around conflict with a team.


Solving organizational problems is much more effective when following a process or problem solving model. Planning skills are vital in order to structure, deliver and follow-through on a problem solving workshop and ensure your solutions are intelligently deployed.

Planning skills include the ability to organize tasks and a team, plan and design the process and take into account any potential challenges. Taking the time to plan carefully can save time and frustration later in the process and is valuable for ensuring a team is positioned for success.

3 Action Steps   #hyperisland   #action   #remote-friendly   This is a small-scale strategic planning session that helps groups and individuals to take action toward a desired change. It is often used at the end of a workshop or programme. The group discusses and agrees on a vision, then creates some action steps that will lead them towards that vision. The scope of the challenge is also defined, through discussion of the helpful and harmful factors influencing the group.


As organisations grow, the scale and variation of problems they face multiplies. Your team or is likely to face numerous challenges in different areas and so having the skills to analyze and prioritize becomes very important, particularly for those in leadership roles.

A thorough problem solving process is likely to deliver multiple solutions and you may have several different problems you wish to solve simultaneously. Prioritization is the ability to measure the importance, value, and effectiveness of those possible solutions and choose which to enact and in what order. The process of prioritization is integral in ensuring the biggest challenges are addressed with the most impactful solutions.

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

Project management

Some problem solving skills are utilized in a workshop or ideation phases, while others come in useful when it comes to decision making. Overseeing an entire problem solving process and ensuring its success requires strong project management skills. 

While project management incorporates many of the other skills listed here, it is important to note the distinction of considering all of the factors of a project and managing them successfully. Being able to negotiate with stakeholders, manage tasks, time and people, consider costs and ROI, and tie everything together is massively helpful when going through the problem solving process. 

Record keeping

Working out meaningful solutions to organizational challenges is only one part of the process.  Thoughtfully documenting and keeping records of each problem solving step for future consultation is important in ensuring efficiency and meaningful change. 

For example, some problems may be lower priority than others but can be revisited in the future. If the team has ideated on solutions and found some are not up to the task, record those so you can rule them out and avoiding repeating work. Keeping records of the process also helps you improve and refine your problem solving model next time around!

Personal Kanban   #gamestorming   #action   #agile   #project planning   Personal Kanban is a tool for organizing your work to be more efficient and productive. It is based on agile methods and principles.

Research skills

Conducting research to support both the identification of problems and the development of appropriate solutions is important for an effective process. Knowing where to go to collect research, how to conduct research efficiently, and identifying pieces of research are relevant are all things a good researcher can do well. 

In larger groups, not everyone has to demonstrate this ability in order for a problem solving workshop to be effective. That said, having people with research skills involved in the process, particularly if they have existing area knowledge, can help ensure the solutions that are developed with data that supports their intention. Remember that being able to deliver the results of research efficiently and in a way the team can easily understand is also important. The best data in the world is only as effective as how it is delivered and interpreted.

Customer experience map   #ideation   #concepts   #research   #design   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   Customer experience mapping is a method of documenting and visualizing the experience a customer has as they use the product or service. It also maps out their responses to their experiences. To be used when there is a solution (even in a conceptual stage) that can be analyzed.

Risk management

Managing risk is an often overlooked part of the problem solving process. Solutions are often developed with the intention of reducing exposure to risk or solving issues that create risk but sometimes, great solutions are more experimental in nature and as such, deploying them needs to be carefully considered. 

Managing risk means acknowledging that there may be risks associated with more out of the box solutions or trying new things, but that this must be measured against the possible benefits and other organizational factors. 

Be informed, get the right data and stakeholders in the room and you can appropriately factor risk into your decision making process. 

Decisions, Decisions…   #communication   #decision making   #thiagi   #action   #issue analysis   When it comes to decision-making, why are some of us more prone to take risks while others are risk-averse? One explanation might be the way the decision and options were presented.  This exercise, based on Kahneman and Tversky’s classic study , illustrates how the framing effect influences our judgement and our ability to make decisions . The participants are divided into two groups. Both groups are presented with the same problem and two alternative programs for solving them. The two programs both have the same consequences but are presented differently. The debriefing discussion examines how the framing of the program impacted the participant’s decision.


No single person is as good at problem solving as a team. Building an effective team and helping them come together around a common purpose is one of the most important problem solving skills, doubly so for leaders. By bringing a team together and helping them work efficiently, you pave the way for team ownership of a problem and the development of effective solutions. 

In a problem solving workshop, it can be tempting to jump right into the deep end, though taking the time to break the ice, energize the team and align them with a game or exercise will pay off over the course of the day.

Remember that you will likely go through the problem solving process multiple times over an organization’s lifespan and building a strong team culture will make future problem solving more effective. It’s also great to work with people you know, trust and have fun with. Working on team building in and out of the problem solving process is a hallmark of successful teams that can work together to solve business problems.

9 Dimensions Team Building Activity   #ice breaker   #teambuilding   #team   #remote-friendly   9 Dimensions is a powerful activity designed to build relationships and trust among team members. There are 2 variations of this icebreaker. The first version is for teams who want to get to know each other better. The second version is for teams who want to explore how they are working together as a team.

Time management 

The problem solving process is designed to lead a team from identifying a problem through to delivering a solution and evaluating its effectiveness. Without effective time management skills or timeboxing of tasks, it can be easy for a team to get bogged down or be inefficient.

By using a problem solving model and carefully designing your workshop, you can allocate time efficiently and trust that the process will deliver the results you need in a good timeframe.

Time management also comes into play when it comes to rolling out solutions, particularly those that are experimental in nature. Having a clear timeframe for implementing and evaluating solutions is vital for ensuring their success and being able to pivot if necessary.

Improving your skills at problem solving is often a career-long pursuit though there are methods you can use to make the learning process more efficient and to supercharge your problem solving skillset.

Remember that the skills you need to be a great problem solver have a large overlap with those skills you need to be effective in any role. Investing time and effort to develop your active listening or critical thinking skills is valuable in any context. Here are 7 ways to improve your problem solving skills.

Share best practices

Remember that your team is an excellent source of skills, wisdom, and techniques and that you should all take advantage of one another where possible. Best practices that one team has for solving problems, conducting research or making decisions should be shared across the organization. If you have in-house staff that have done active listening training or are data analysis pros, have them lead a training session. 

Your team is one of your best resources. Create space and internal processes for the sharing of skills so that you can all grow together. 

Ask for help and attend training

Once you’ve figured out you have a skills gap, the next step is to take action to fill that skills gap. That might be by asking your superior for training or coaching, or liaising with team members with that skill set. You might even attend specialized training for certain skills – active listening or critical thinking, for example, are business-critical skills that are regularly offered as part of a training scheme.

Whatever method you choose, remember that taking action of some description is necessary for growth. Whether that means practicing, getting help, attending training or doing some background reading, taking active steps to improve your skills is the way to go.

Learn a process 

Problem solving can be complicated, particularly when attempting to solve large problems for the first time. Using a problem solving process helps give structure to your problem solving efforts and focus on creating outcomes, rather than worrying about the format. 

Tools such as the seven-step problem solving process above are effective because not only do they feature steps that will help a team solve problems, they also develop skills along the way. Each step asks for people to engage with the process using different skills and in doing so, helps the team learn and grow together. Group processes of varying complexity and purpose can also be found in the SessionLab library of facilitation techniques . Using a tried and tested process and really help ease the learning curve for both those leading such a process, as well as those undergoing the purpose.

Effective teams make decisions about where they should and shouldn’t expend additional effort. By using a problem solving process, you can focus on the things that matter, rather than stumbling towards a solution haphazardly. 

Create a feedback loop

Some skills gaps are more obvious than others. It’s possible that your perception of your active listening skills differs from those of your colleagues. 

It’s valuable to create a system where team members can provide feedback in an ordered and friendly manner so they can all learn from one another. Only by identifying areas of improvement can you then work to improve them. 

Remember that feedback systems require oversight and consideration so that they don’t turn into a place to complain about colleagues. Design the system intelligently so that you encourage the creation of learning opportunities, rather than encouraging people to list their pet peeves.

While practice might not make perfect, it does make the problem solving process easier. If you are having trouble with critical thinking, don’t shy away from doing it. Get involved where you can and stretch those muscles as regularly as possible. 

Problem solving skills come more naturally to some than to others and that’s okay. Take opportunities to get involved and see where you can practice your skills in situations outside of a workshop context. Try collaborating in other circumstances at work or conduct data analysis on your own projects. You can often develop those skills you need for problem solving simply by doing them. Get involved!

Use expert exercises and methods

Learn from the best. Our library of 700+ facilitation techniques is full of activities and methods that help develop the skills you need to be an effective problem solver. Check out our templates to see how to approach problem solving and other organizational challenges in a structured and intelligent manner.

There is no single approach to improving problem solving skills, but by using the techniques employed by others you can learn from their example and develop processes that have seen proven results. 

Try new ways of thinking and change your mindset

Using tried and tested exercises that you know well can help deliver results, but you do run the risk of missing out on the learning opportunities offered by new approaches. As with the problem solving process, changing your mindset can remove blockages and be used to develop your problem solving skills.

Most teams have members with mixed skill sets and specialties. Mix people from different teams and share skills and different points of view. Teach your customer support team how to use design thinking methods or help your developers with conflict resolution techniques. Try switching perspectives with facilitation techniques like Flip It! or by using new problem solving methodologies or models. Give design thinking, liberating structures or lego serious play a try if you want to try a new approach. You will find that framing problems in new ways and using existing skills in new contexts can be hugely useful for personal development and improving your skillset. It’s also a lot of fun to try new things. Give it a go!

Encountering business challenges and needing to find appropriate solutions is not unique to your organization. Lots of very smart people have developed methods, theories and approaches to help develop problem solving skills and create effective solutions. Learn from them!

Books like The Art of Thinking Clearly , Think Smarter, or Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow are great places to start, though it’s also worth looking at blogs related to organizations facing similar problems to yours, or browsing for success stories. Seeing how Dropbox massively increased growth and working backward can help you see the skills or approach you might be lacking to solve that same problem. Learning from others by reading their stories or approaches can be time-consuming but ultimately rewarding.

A tired, distracted mind is not in the best position to learn new skills. It can be tempted to burn the candle at both ends and develop problem solving skills outside of work. Absolutely use your time effectively and take opportunities for self-improvement, though remember that rest is hugely important and that without letting your brain rest, you cannot be at your most effective. 

Creating distance between yourself and the problem you might be facing can also be useful. By letting an idea sit, you can find that a better one presents itself or you can develop it further. Take regular breaks when working and create a space for downtime. Remember that working smarter is preferable to working harder and that self-care is important for any effective learning or improvement process.

Want to design better group processes?

problem solving skills in leader

Over to you

Now we’ve explored some of the key problem solving skills and the problem solving steps necessary for an effective process, you’re ready to begin developing more effective solutions and leading problem solving workshops.

Need more inspiration? Check out our post on problem solving activities you can use when guiding a group towards a great solution in your next workshop or meeting. Have questions? Did you have a great problem solving technique you use with your team? Get in touch in the comments below. We’d love to chat!

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  • *Leadership Quarterly

Leaders Can Use These Nine Skills to Become Better Problem-Solvers

problem solving skills in leader

We often think of leaders as problem solvers, and this opens the possibility of leaders honing their problem-solving skills through training. But how can we train leaders to solve problems? Specifically, it is something called “case-based knowledge” that allows leaders to solve complex issues. Case-based knowledge refers to the context of the problem and any previous experience with similar issues , like a mental library of information tailored toward a specific problem.

But while case-based knowledge has the potential to  improve performance in leadership roles , it is not necessarily enough by itself. Some leaders may get bogged down in the details of a decision or find it difficult to work on multiple cases at once because their case-based knowledge is stored in insufficient “mental models.” A mental model is a network of information that helps people mentally process and store information efficiently. Mental models directly impact a leader’s behavior and problem-solving ability.

In order to improve leader performance through training, the primary question is: what skills best help leaders use case-based knowledge and mental models to solve complex problems ?  Researchers (Mumford, Todd, Higgs, & McIntosh, 2017) reviewed recent literature to identify nine skills critical to leadership performance:


  • Gather information to define the problem.
  • Think about the origin of the problem and possible solutions to the problem and how they are related.
  • Consider any factors that may be constraining solutions.
  • Plan the solution and consider ways to prevent harmful outcomes.
  • Objectively forecast or predict what outcomes will occur after the plan is implemented.
  • Use creativity to develop contingency plans.
  • Evaluate ideas and appraise solutions. Which will be most effective?
  • Use wisdom to appraise solutions using objective self-reflection, awareness, and sound judgment.
  • Craft a vision and communicate, adjust, and articulate plans to followers.


When considering the leader as a problem solver, the above nine critical skills will help improve the use of case-based knowledge in mental models of leaders. This leads to more effective problem-solving. Each skill should be considered more or less important depending on the situation. For example, creativity may be important during unanticipated crises , but forecasting may be more critical for social problems with a myriad of possible outcomes. These cognitive skills are easily developed through training, such as strategy-based instructional interventions or self-reflection exercises. They may also be considered for use in assessing leadership potential. Overall, these skills allow leaders to more effectively navigate case-based knowledge in mental models, resulting in higher-quality solutions .

Mumford, M. D., Todd, E. M., Higgs, C., & McIntosh, T. (2017). Cognitive skills and leadership performance: The nine critical skills.  The Leadership Quarterly, 28 , 24-39.

Corporate learning

4 Effective Problem-Solving Strategies and Skills for the Workplace

Regardless of how many tools and processes are in place, there will come a time when a leader must deal with unexpected problems in the workplace. It’s important that a leader focuses on building problem-solving skills within their team to enact change in the organisation. Without problem solving, businesses operate inefficiently and are unable to match organisational strategy.

In this article we’ll discuss the problem-solving process and the problem-solving skills leaders require for success.

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What is problem-solving?

Problem-solving  is the process of finding solutions to meet a goal by overcoming obstacles. It involves identifying problems and taking time developing and implementing solutions to them. In the workplace, this means dealing with issues such as project deadlines, changing variables and other business-related topics that can affect the performance and health of your organisation.

Importance of problem-solving skills in leadership

In leadership,  problem-solving is about reducing risk  and pushing your team to meet organisational outcomes. When things go wrong, it’s up to leaders to fix them—and be strategic about it.

This means ensuring the solution leads to long-lasting change in the workplace. Adjusting processes so that you won’t fall into the same trap next time,  facilitating the development of problem-solving skills  in team members, or setting up a clear foundational strategy to use as a basis for problem-solving activities in the future. It’s all about minimising the impact a future problem will have on the business, thereby making the problem-solving process more efficient.

In terms of meeting organisational outcomes, you want to meet your business goals, not meander from the path. It’s up to leaders to make sure that whatever solution is chosen and implemented, it will set your business on a trajectory towards organisational values and priorities.

This is why we’ve created the first performance learning management system (PLMS) here at Acorn. It’s a dynamic AI-powered platform for that synchronises L&D experience with business performance, by guiding learners step-by-step to master the role-specific capabilities that accelerate organisational performance.

The problem-solving process

The problem-solving process

Sometimes, you come across a tough problem to solve, and finding possible solutions for it can feel overwhelming, especially when there’s a lot at stake. Enter: The  problem-solving process .

In simple terms, the problem-solving process is broken into four separate stages, which we’ll get into in more detail below. 

Identify the problem

  • Generate possible solutions
  • Select a solution
  • Implement and evaluate.

When problems arise they can take many forms, which is why you need to be sure that what you’re identifying is the cause of the problem and not just symptoms. Ask questions to find the root cause.

  • Who is involved with or most affected by the problem?
  • What is happening?
  • When did it happen? Is it urgent?
  • Where did it happen, and does it affect anything else?
  • Why is the issue impacting workflows and team members?
  • How is it impacting workflows and team members?

Asking these questions will probably reveal a lot of smaller issues which will help you define the real problem. Plus, having an overview of all the smaller issues affecting the course of productivity in your organisation paints a clear picture of what problems need to be addressed.

Generate alternatives

Brainstorm multiple ideas. If you immediately lock in on the first solution you come up with you might be depriving your organisation of a better fix. The best thing to do here is not to analyse the best course of action as you go—rather, wait until you have a selection of alternative solutions first before you weigh the merits of each one.

It’s also important to remember who you identified in the first step as being involved or affected by the problem. These people are stakeholders in the process and should be consulted to discuss potential courses of action, thanks to their unique perspectives.

The solutions you brainstorm should be in line with your business strategy, regardless of whether those solutions are long- or short-term.

Select an alternative

To determine which solution is best, you should consider the following questions:

  • Will this solution fix the problem better than other alternatives?
  • Will all your stakeholders agree with using this alternative?
  • Does your organisation have the capacity to implement it?
  • Is implementation of the solution likely to happen?

You need to make sure you examine all potential alternatives without bias to find the most effective solution for your specific problem. Rushing to select a solution without proper evaluation could result in more problems arising.

Implement solutions and follow up

Work with the people most affected by the problem before bringing in others to implement your solution. This is an important step towards gaining buy-in for the implementation process, ensuring a better and more efficient roll-out.

After that, you need to evaluate and gather feedback. Communication should be open during implementation so you can course-correct any issues that arise during the process. Working on improving your solution as you go is effective problem solving at its best. And evaluating the efficacy of your solutions is a good habit for  maintaining a healthy workplace .

The 4 most effective ways leaders can solve problems

By default, great leaders should be great problem solvers. They have good problem-solving skills with the right tools and focus to guide their teams through problems to specific solutions.

There are four effective problem-solving techniques leaders use to solve problems:

  • Transparent communication
  • Maintaining open-mindedness
  • Refrain from the blame-game
  • Connecting the dots.

The 4 effective problem-solving techniques leaders use

Maintain transparent communication

Problem solving works best when people feel comfortable sharing their opinions and feedback. Fact-finding is essential to understanding complex problems and solving them. When you don’t have effective and transparent communication across your organisation you develop silos, and silos breed more issues that need fixing.

Transparent communication isn’t just about being able to share ideas with direct managers and vice versa. It’s about breaking down the boundaries within an organisation that create silos, allowing the flow of information. This way, employees will be able to roam freely and share creative thinking with a wider range of people across the business. Without open channels of communication, your siloed teams will become inefficient and less productive due to the lack of collaboration and shared knowledge and procedures.

Encourage open-mindedness

Of course, there will always be people who make it difficult to solve problems in the workplace. The best course of action is to search for the people within teams who lift others up and look beyond the most obvious details and facts on a daily basis. These are defining characteristics of problem solvers.

A person who has these characteristics is innovative and shows initiative when it comes to solving problems. They take risks and use problem solving failures as learning opportunities and resources for growth. You should nurture this open-mindedness and treat failure as a tool to learn from to become stronger at problem solving.

Stop the blame-game

A team needs to work together, and there’s no better way to teach that than to lead by example. Problem solving is ineffective when everyone is pointing fingers at each other for every little problem that comes to light.

Of course, you need to identify the cause of a problem if you want it to be solved, but that’s not the same as placing blame. Instead, work towards defining a solution to solve the problem (as well as ensuring history won’t repeat itself).

Connect the dots

Solving a problem is one thing, but creating widespread change that sticks is another. If you work to tackle problems without defining problem-solving strategies first, you’ll essentially be starting the process from scratch every time. But, with a foundational strategy in place you can streamline the journey to a solution.

Having a strategy gives you the benefits of knowing which tools and resources to bring in to find answers and when. This could be anything from which people to involve, budgeting and pre-existing knowledge and expertise. A problem-solving leader should be able to utilise strategies while also leading long-term change to prevent the same problem from recurring over and over again.

Key takeaways

Problem solving is an essential element of leadership, team work, workplace culture and overall business health, allowing the organisation to run smoothly and meet its desired business outcomes. By possessing and encouraging problem solving techniques in team members, they will work efficiently together to evaluate alternative solutions and define lasting change that benefits the whole organisation.

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The Leader’s 5-Step Process for Solving Any Problem

The Leader’s 5-Step Process for Solving Any Problem

This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s leadership resource, Developing the Leader Within You 2.0. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost leadership and personal growth experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for leadership development contains invaluable insights. You can pick up a copy here .

Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

Not everyone sees things this way. Some are presented with tough problems or hard choices and throw up their hands in frustration. But viewing a challenge as an obstacle, rather than an opportunity, does not prevent us from having the problem – it only affects our ability to solve it.

Any leader who can shift his or her thinking from Is there an answer? to There is always an answer to There must be a good answer has the potential to become not only a fantastic problem solver, but also a change agent for opportunity.

Not Problems, But Possibilities

Leadership author and speaker Glenn Llopis has written about the power of this problem-solving perspective. He quoted Karl Popper: “All life is problem solving.” Then he went on to say, “The best leaders are the best problem solvers. They have the patience to step back and see the problem at-hand through broadened observation… The most effective leaders approach problems through a lens of opportunity.”

So how can leaders look at problems through the lens of opportunity? Try these 5 perspective-shifting approaches:


Great leaders are rarely blindsided. Like boxers, they recognize that the punch that knocks them out is usually the one they didn’t see coming. For that reason they are always looking for signs and indicators that will give them insight into any potential problems ahead. Every problem is like the one faced by the trespasser at an Indiana farm who saw a sign on a fence post that said, “If you cross this field, you’d better do it in 9.8 seconds. The bull can do it in 10 seconds.”

Good leaders anticipate problems so they can position themselves and those who follow them for success. What potential problems do you see in your world, and what is your game plan to fix them when they happen? Downsides rarely have an upside unless you are ready for them on the front end.


Have you ever heard the saying “Assumption is the mother of mess-ups”? If assumptions create mess-ups in everyday life, they create trainwrecks in leadership. The place to start is by getting a clear picture of the problem you face. Financier and business titan J. P. Morgan asserted, “No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element in thinking.”

That process begins by identifying what constitutes a problem. Author Bobb Biehl defines a problem as “a situation that’s counter to your intentions or expectations.” So what must a leader do when they find themselves facing one of these counter-situations? They must follow the advice of author Max De Pree, who said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”


Questions are a vital resource for problem solving. Not only do they help leaders gather information and seek solutions, but they also enable us to understand what people think and feel before we lead them. Many leaders are too quick to talk and lead, and too slow to ask questions and listen.

Consider these clarifying questions next time you’re faced with difficulty:

  • Who knows the most about this problem?
  • Who knows what I need to know?
  • Who wants to tackle this problem?
  • Who needs to buy in, and how long will that take?


As you seek to solve problems, list as many solutions to a problem as possible. The more, the better. Keep in mind that seldom is there just one way to solve a problem. The more options the better, because problems continually shift and change. Leaders who don’t have backup solutions soon find themselves in trouble.

The truth is that big ideas don’t appear—they evolve. But that only happens when you are determined to explore ideas and look for more and better solutions.


One of the greatest dangers for a thoughtful person is to spend too much time on problem solving and too little time on solution implementing. Leaders who don’t or can’t follow through are in danger of thinking, Ready, aim, aim, aim… but never fire!

The solution is to develop a bias for action. Don’t think, Can I? Instead think, How can I? Then start moving forward. The moment you confront and act on a problem, you begin to solve it. If great inventors and explorers hadn’t taken tangible, deliberate steps forward, would they have made the contributions they’re known for? No! Their belief prompted action and their action created results. Ideas evolve as you move, and better solutions come into view as you move forward. Ultimately, you can’t wish or wait your way through difficulties. You must work your way through them.

How do great leaders improve? One way is by committing to always improving their leadership skills and surrounding themselves with like-minded people.

Maxwell Leadership is proud to present Day to Grow… a one-day leadership development conference in Orlando, Florida, on August 14th , featuring incredible speakers like John C. Maxwell, Atomic Habits author James Clear, Juliet Funt, and Ryan Leak. Ready to reserve your seat at Day to Grow? Click here to register .

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5 Problem-Solving Qualities Every Leader Must Have

by Helena Escalante | Accountability , Creativity , Growth , Leadership , Mindset , Wellbeing

5 Problem-Solving Qualities Every Leader Must Have

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 20 seconds.

TODAY’S IDEA: 5 Problem-Solving Qualities Every Leader Must Have

— From The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow by John C. Maxwell

Whenever we read about leaders’ lives and accomplishments—whether contemporary or throughout history—one underlying common stands out: their problem-solving ability.

“No matter what field a leader is in, he will face problems,” says John C. Maxwell , author of The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader . “[Problems] are inevitable for three reasons. First, we live in a world of growing complexity and diversity. Second, we interact with people. And third, we cannot control all the situations we face.”

Thus, as a leader, Maxwell suggests cultivating these five problem-solving qualities, because “you can’t let your problems be a problem.”

1. Leaders anticipate problems. “Since problems are inevitable, good leaders anticipate them. Anyone who expects the road to be easy will continually find himself in trouble… If you keep your attitude positive but plan for the worst, you’ll find yourself in a good position to solve problems that come your way.”

2. Leaders accept the truth. “People respond to problems in these ways: they refuse to accept them; they accept them and then put up with them; or they accept them and try to make things better. Leaders must always do the latter. […] No leader can simultaneously have his head in the sand and navigate [his/her] people through troubled waters. Effective leaders face up to the reality of a situation.”

3. Leaders see the big picture. “Leaders must continually see the big picture. They cannot afford to be overwhelmed by emotion. Nor can they allow themselves to get so bogged down in the details that they lose sight of what’s important.”

4. Leaders handle one thing at a time. The author shares this great quote from Richard Sloma , management guru: Never try to solve all the problems at once—make them line up for you one-by-one. Then Maxwell goes on to say, “The leaders who get in trouble most often are the ones who are overwhelmed by the sheer size or volume of their troubles and then dabble at problem-solving. If you’re faced with lots of problems, make sure you really solve the one you’re working on before moving on to the next one.”

5. Leaders don’t give up a major goal when they’re down. “Effective leaders understand the peak-to-peak principle. They make major decisions when they are experiencing a positive swing in their leadership, not during dark times.”

After reading all this, you’re probably wondering how you can improve on your problem-solving skills. Well, I have good news and not-so-good news…

First, the not so good news: “The ability to solve problems effectively comes from experience facing and overcoming obstacles,” says Maxwell. There’s no way around it. Experience is the best teacher indeed: “if you never try, fail, and try again, you’ll never get good at it.”

Now, for the good news: “Each time you solve another problem, you get a little better at the process.” And this is something that builds on itself, giving you more experience and tools every time.

And here’s the happy ending: you can (and definitely should) always write a great last chapter . It’s the best way to come out better, stronger, and with the gift of having learned something, than prior to the problem.

TODAY: To flex your problem-solving muscles, Maxwell suggests going out looking for trouble. “Find situations that need fixing, come up with several viable solutions, and then take them to a leader with good problem-solving experience. You’ll learn from [his/her] decisions how he thinks when handling difficulties.”

FUTURE: When faced with problems in the future, Maxwell offers the following TEACH approach to problem-solving:

T ime: Spend time to discover the real issue. E xposure: Find out what others have done. A ssistance: Have your team [or get a group together to] study all angles. C reativity: Brainstorm multiple solutions. H it it: Implement the best solution.

Know someone who is a whiz at problem-solving? Or someone who is going through hell and could use some help? Please share this post:  Email , Facebook or Twitter.

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  • Problem Solving

Problem Solving is a component of Ownership. Within Problem Solving, we also cover key topics including Spotlight on Problem Solving Tools and Techniques, Spotlight on Gap Analysis and Spotlight on Intuition Problem Solving.

  • Dimensions of Leadership

Leadership Essentials: Problem Solving

It is often easy to overlook or misunderstand the true nature and cause of problems in the workplace. This can lead to missed learning opportunities, the wrong problem being dealt with, or the symptom being removed but not the cause of the underlying problem. You need to diagnose the situation so that the real problem is accurately identified, and if you define problems accurately you will make them easier and less costly to solve. 

‘Leadership Essentials: Problem-Solving’ provides an overview of why problem-solving is essential for leadership capability and includes ‘Top Tips’ on how effective problem-solving can help you become a better leader. The Essentials leaflet is supported by three Spotlights that look at problem-solving in more detail to help you improve your leadership skills:

  • Defining the Problem
  • Gap Analysis
  • Intuition in Problem-Solving


09 February 2018


Spotlight on Gap Analysis

34.1 Problem definition -143070846.jpg

Spotlight on Intuition in Problem Solving

"My own experience is that you get as much information as you can and then you pay attention to your intuition, to your informed instinct"

Colin Powell  (Former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)


Spotlight on Problem Solving Tools and Techniques

"If I were given one hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it." Attributed to Albert Einstein

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Dr. Josh Axe is the co-founder of Ancient Nutrition and the founder and CEO of Leaders.com. He earned his doctorate...

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Updated May 17, 2023

Reviewed by Colin Baker

problem solving skills in leader

Colin Baker

Leadership and Business Writer

Colin Baker is a business writer for Leaders Media. He has a background in as a television journalism, working as...

What Is Problem-Solving? How to Use Problem-Solving Skills to Resolve Issues

What is problem-solving, what is the general process of problem-solving, the best problem-solving strategies and tools, what to do when a problem feels too big to solve.

Great businesses don’t exist to simply grow and make money. Instead, they solve the world’s problems , from tiny issues to giant dilemmas. Problem-solving is essentially the main function of organizations. An effective organization will have systems and processes in place to reach their goals and solve problems. If a company has team members and leaders who have poor problem-solving skills, that means they’re ineffective at one of the core functions of a business.

You need to be good at both external problem-solving (solving problems for others) and internal problem-solving (solving problems before or when they arise within the business). An organization that can solve problems will see its teams come closer together as they bond over providing solutions to serious issues. Companies that solve problems well will also be able to carry out their purpose more efficiently.

Learn the steps you can follow to solve problems both great and small. Additionally, discover some real-world methods and problem-solving skills successful business leaders use to solve problems of their own.

Problem-solving involves the search for solutions that follow an effective process of discovery, identification, ideation, and execution. Problem-solving usually requires overcoming numerous obstacles that stand in the way of reaching your goal. Often, the act of problem-solving includes coming up with solutions to many smaller problems before eventually solving the main issue that prompted the process in the first place.

The key to cultivating excellent problem-solving skills is having a distinct process designed to produce solutions. While it may seem like problem-solving involves a complex strategy, it features several steps that are easy to follow. The following steps represent a general problem-solving process you can use when you need to find a solution.

1. Define the Problem

The first step to take as part of the problem-solving process involves defining what that problem is. While this may seem like a simple idea to follow, the key is to get to the root of the problem . Only once you’re able to identify the root issue you’re tackling through a root cause analysis can you be sure you’re on the right path. Sometimes the surface issue isn’t what you need to address. Just like an earthquake, organizational issues have an epicenter—complete with shockwaves that negatively impact the business. If you don’t resolve the core problem, it can expand , and the damage becomes detrimental. All problem-solving jobs begin with this important first step.

If your organization has a problem with employee retention , you may think you’ll solve it by increasing pay or perks. However, that might not address the root of the issue. If you were to investigate further, you may discover that a manager is creating a toxic work environment, causing good employees to find work elsewhere. 

2. Brainstorm Possible Solutions

Once you have a solid idea of what the real problem is, you can proceed to create possible solutions you can pursue. Take the time to brainstorm different solutions. No two problems are the same, and each one will require a creative approach. Make sure you write down the alternative solutions so you can research them in depth. During the course of your brainstorming, you may stumble upon a solution you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

As you follow this step, you may need to find the best way to inspire your critical thinking skills. Think about when and where you generate ideas and get the creative juices flowing. Then, try to put yourself in that environment as often as possible.

Sara Blakely , the founder of SPANX®, says her most productive creative thinking happens when she’s driving in her car . Even though she doesn’t have a real commute, she gets in the car and makes one up. “I live really close to Spanx,” she said on the “Masters of Scale” podcast, “so I’ve created what my friends call my ‘fake commute,’ and I get up an hour early before I’m supposed to go to Spanx, and I drive around aimlessly in Atlanta with my commute so that I can have my thoughts come to me.” As a result, she sets time aside for developing her best problem-solving strategies every single day.

3. Research Several Options

After you’ve come up with several possible alternative solutions, pick two or three that seem the most promising using your analytical skills. Then you’ll need to buckle down and do some research to see which one to pursue. Conduct your research using primary and secondary resources.

Conduct primary research by:

  • Having a discussion with a mentor
  • Interviewing a person who’s successfully solved this problem before
  • Strategizing with team members closest to the issue

Great secondary sources include:

  • Trustworthy online articles and news sources from credible websites
  • Leadership books from experts who have written about the problem
  • Business podcast interviews on the issue
  • YouTube videos featuring established leaders

4. Select a Solution

At the conclusion of your research, you’ll be better equipped to select the right solution. Evaluate the data you have gathered. To ensure you make a good pick, you’ll need to keep several considerations in mind. 

Here are some good questions to ask when picking a solution:

  • Is this solution in line with the company’s core values?
  • Is it a realistic option?
  • Could it lead to additional problems?
  • Will everyone involved accept the solution?
  • Does it truly solve the problem, or does it only delay negative effects?

As you employ your creative thinking skills in answering these questions, you’ll eventually need to settle on a single solution. Adhering to a decision-making process helps you objectively choose the best solution out of many options. Don’t make a quick decision you may later regret. Be deliberate in your analysis, and try to remain as objective as possible.

In order to make the most objective decision:

  • Get into a humble mindset and make sure you’re willing to listen and learn.
  • Don’t let emotions influence the choice.
  • Reverse-engineer the possible outcome of any given solution.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of each choice.
  • Seek wise counsel from trusted mentors, leaders, and team members.

5. Develop an Action Plan

Once you’ve settled on a solution, you’ll be ready to pursue it. Before moving too quickly, revisit step one and make sure your choice aligns with the main objective . If it doesn’t, although it may be a valid choice, it’s most likely not the best for your team. If this is the case, don’t get discouraged. Creative problem-solving takes time.

When the right choice is made, and the solution is placed into the overall strategy, start developing an action plan . Lay out the “who,” “what,” “when,” “why,” and “how.” Visualize exactly what success looks like with this new plan. When working through the problem-solving process, write all the details down. This helps leaders construct action items and delegate them accordingly. Never leave this part of the process empty-handed. Your team needs a clear picture of expectations so they can properly implement the solution. And if everything works, you can use this problem-solving model in the future.

You will undoubtedly encounter many problems that need to be solved in your life. There are a variety of ways to solve those problems. With all the problem-solving techniques out there, it can be helpful to learn some of them so you can employ the best one at the right moment. The following are just a few examples of what these strategies and problem-solving tools look like in the real world.

One of the best ways to discover the root cause of a problem is by utilizing the 5 Whys method. This strategy was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Industries. It’s as simple as it sounds. When a problem occurs, ask why it happened five times. In theory, the last answer should get to the heart of the issue.

Here’s an example of how the 5 Whys work in action:

problem solving skills in leader

When business leaders use the 5 Whys method , problems are given more context. Uncovering how, when, and why they happen helps company owners and executives identify the organization’s core issues.

First Principles Thinking

When one engages in first principles thinking , they end up questioning what everyone just assumes to be true. It effectively removes those assumptions , breaking things down into their most basic elements that are probably true. It’s all about getting to that core foundation of truth and building out from there. Problem-solving skills should always include first principles thinking.

Elon Musk most famously pursued this strategy when it comes to space travel. Instead of accepting that building a rocket was too expensive, he got to the fundamental truths of construction, all the way down to pricing each component. Musk once explained that he follows first principles thinking by following three simple steps .

  • Identify the assumptions
  • Break down the issue into its core, fundamental components
  • Innovate by creating new solutions

Other business leaders have engaged in similar strategies, such as Jeff Bezos when he advised the need for finding out key truths for yourself. First principles thinking is an important part of innovating beyond what we assume can’t be changed. It’s a way to use analytical skills to discover potential solutions through constant learning and acquiring new information.

Steve Jobs’ Problem-Solving Method

Steve Jobs gained a reputation for solving problems through Apple. He was always on the lookout for simple solutions to complex problems. He followed his own three-step method that helped him tackle difficult issues.

  • Zoom Out: When facing a problem, zoom out to get a larger view of the bigger picture. This is another way to help you define the problem and pinpoint the root cause.
  • Focus In: After defining the problem, focus all your attention on solving it. Concentrate your efforts, and don’t stop until the problem is fixed. Give yourself a period of intense focus and dedication as you bring the solution to life.
  • Disconnect: If things aren’t proceeding the way you thought they would, it may be time to disconnect. That means walking away and giving yourself a break so you can clear your mind. Sometimes, a break is all you need to approach the problem once more, this time from a fresh angle with your mind fully reenergized.

From increasing sales to engaging in conflict resolution , business leaders have a lot of problems to solve. However, some people may still feel overwhelmed, especially if the problem is large in scope and could even threaten to close the company. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get in the right mindset as outlined by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits :

  • Break the bigger problem down into a lot of smaller problems
  • Focus on one small problem and solve it
  • Use what you learned from solving that problem to increase your knowledge about the bigger problem
  • Repeat these steps until the larger problem is solved

Tackling a problem that feels too big to solve requires a can-do, positive mindset. In order to improve your problem-solving, you’ll need to take remember these steps. Imagine what is possible instead of focusing on what seems impossible. As you do so, you’ll become skilled in solving all sorts of problems while also improving your decision-making.

For more help in growing your skillset, check out the following article:

Growth Mindset: Creating an Environment for Innovation

Leaders Media has established sourcing guidelines and relies on relevant, and credible sources for the data, facts, and expert insights and analysis we reference. You can learn more about our mission, ethics, and how we cite sources in our editorial policy .

  • Abadi, Mark. “The CEO of Spanx Wakes up an Hour Early to Drive around ‘Aimlessly’ on a ‘Fake Commute’ Because She Does Her Best Thinking in the Car.”  Insider , 15 Nov. 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/spanx-ceo-sara-blakely-fake-commute-2018-11.
  • Oshin, Mayo. “Elon Musks’ ‘3-Step’ First Principles Thinking: How to Think and Solve Difficult Problems Like A….”  Mission.Org , 2 Nov. 2020, https://medium.com/the-mission/elon-musks-3-step-first-principles-thinking-how-to-think-and-solve-difficult-problems-like-a-ba1e73a9f6c0.
  • Clear, James. “How to Solve Big Problems.”  James Clear , 25 July 2014, https://jamesclear.com/narrow-focus.
  • Nast, C. (n.d.). WIRED. https://www.wired.com/2012/10/ff-elon-musk-qa/all/
  • Just a moment. . . (n.d.). https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/5-whys-example
  • inc.com . (n.d.). https://www.inc.com/kelly-main/apple-steve-jobs-problem-solving.html
  • How to find your big idea . (2022, October 6). Masters of Scale. https://mastersofscale.com/sara-blakely-how-to-find-your-big-idea/
  • EX-99.1 . (n.d.). https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1018724/000119312517120198/d373368dex991.htm

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6 Problem Solving Skills That All Leaders Should Work On

  • Anouare Abdou
  • January 3, 2023

Chances are, if you are a leader, you are also a pretty good problem-solver . You have come this far because you are proactive about finding solutions. You know how to think critically, strategize and execute. You foster collaboration in your team and make the most of the strengths of each team member. You lean on your communication skills to overcome challenges. 

If you want to take your ability to solve complex problems to the next level, however, you’ll need to actively work on the specific problem-solving skills that differentiate great leaders from excellent ones. 

“More than ever, leaders are facing highly complex, challenging situations that don’t have simple solutions. These include the intersection of employee mental health, diversity and equity expectations, supply chain issues, societal crises, and more,” according to Dr. Mira Brancu , award-winning leader, author, and consulting psychologist. “Employees and customers are expecting more from companies, and therefore the leaders that are needed today are those who have more than just technical expertise in their field – they also have the ability to solve complex problems.” 

On that note, here are six problem-solving skills that all leaders should work on these days. 

1. Calculating the critical path 

Every leader should know how to calculate the critical path in a project, according to Christina Wallace , senior lecturer of Entrepreneurial Management at Harvard Business School, angel investor, and author of “The Portfolio Life: How to Future-Proof Your Career, Avoid Burnout, and Build A Life Bigger Than Your Business Card .” 

Wondering what that even means? In project management, the critical path is the longest sequence of activities that must be completed to ensure a project is finished. Every project has a set of tasks and sub-tasks. Some of them can happen concurrently, while others need to happen in a certain sequence. Identifying all those activities and the dependencies between them allows you to calculate the critical path that leads to the project end date – in simple words, it lets you forecast how long it will take to wrap up your project while anticipating bottlenecks. 

“If you’ve ever been stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic while three lanes winnow down to one, you are familiar with the idea of a bottleneck and its frustrations. It’s the moment when too many things (cars, deadlines) are demanding the same resources at once (roadway, time on your calendar), creating congestion in the system,” says Wallace. Calculating the critical path helps prevent bottlenecks before they happen. Use a Gantt chart , a graphic that displays activities against time, to visualize the critical path of a project – most project-management platforms offer the option to create one. “Visualizing the bottlenecks gives you the opportunity to move things around, add in buffers or simplify processes to ensure your plan is not only feasible but also realistic,” adds Wallace 

2. Sensitivity analysis

If you manage a budget, you’ll also want to know how to run a sensitivity analysis – a technique that tests how robust your predictions are.

“If the economy suddenly hits a recession, will that affect the demand for your work or the pricing power you have over your rates? Are there expenses that could see a sizable change, like the cost of living significantly increasing in a fast-growing city? What about one-off costs that you don’t regularly budget for? According to Wallace, ” do you have a plan to mitigate them?” are questions to ask yourself about your financial planning. The idea of a sensitivity analysis is to consider the assumptions built into your financial model – say, assuming that your team is going to hit certain targets– and assess the likelihood of those assumptions being wrong. 

“A sensitivity analysis gives you the ability to consider multiple scenarios and understand how your financial plans may need to change if the future looks different than you anticipate,” says Wallace. No need to be a CFO to do this either – if you have a budget, you should unpack the assumptions involved in your plan. 

3. Critical thinking 

Speaking of assumptions, how often do you challenge your own biases and seek to look at problems in a variety of ways? It’s a crucial aspect of critical thinking – and critical thinking is a crucial aspect of solving problems. To flex your critical thinking muscles, you’ll want to look at issues from different perspectives. 

“Critical thinking involves seeing an issue from many angles, zooming out to the big picture and zooming into the details and back, and being able to imagine the impact of making different decisions on multiple stakeholders before making a final decision,” says Brancu. 

Practice this with every problem you solve and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised at the solutions that you come up with and the opportunities that open up as a result. 

4. Data gathering 

Data gathering is another important problem-solving skill to work on. Knowing how to gather both qualitative and quantitative data to solve problems is key, according to Brancu. 

“This involves taking the time to speak with critical stakeholders, and business data, and garnering other information to ensure that you are not missing anything important before making a decision. It helps you address your own blind spots,” she says. Gathering information about a challenge before making a move is not time wasted – it’s time gained down the line. 

5. Leveraging advisors 

Wallace says that leaders should build their own personal “board of directors” to solve problems more effectively. Leveraging your relationships in that way is an underrated but powerful problem-solving ability. 

Your advisors should include a collection of folks that you go to for advice, introductions, a fresh perspective, or some hard truth, says Wallace. “They bring their experience, judgment, and network to the table, providing counsel, access, and feedback. Rather than looking for one mentor who can be all things for an indefinite period of time, you can seek out directors who may do a rotation on your board for a few years, maybe more, maybe less.” 

To be clear, you don’t need to officially ask them to be part of your “board.” You simply have to make a point of connecting with them on a regular basis because you appreciate their experience and trust their advice. According to Wallace, you should seek to cover five key roles: a coach, a negotiator, a connector, a cheerleader, and a truth-teller. Turn to them when you’re unsure about how to move forward. 

6. Change-management skills 

Every leader should possess change-management skills when solving problems in this day and age. “Any decision that is made to address a problem needs to consider both the actual change that is required, as well as the people who would be affected. Most leaders overlook the impact and reactions of the people who are affected by any change, or they spend insufficient time considering how to involve different groups of people at different phases of a change process,” according to Brancu. 

“As a result, the problem might get worse because the leader didn’t get buy-in, didn’t communicate the concern or plan sufficiently or didn’t sufficiently address concerns raised,” she adds. 

If you become adept at change management, you’ll solve issues before they even happen. Talk about a useful problem-solving skill.

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Importance of problem solving skills in leadership – make a difference and be successful.

Great leaders in U.S. history showed how you can make a difference and be successful. They are exemplars of the importance of problem solving skills in leadership:

  • George Washington  led a ragtag army of colonial soldiers against the professional army of a world power. He overcame almost insurmountable problems as a military leader and as the first president of a new republic.
  • Abraham Lincoln  was the president of a country coming apart at the seams. His determined leadership and overcoming problems, during a time when others gave up, preserved our republic through an unprecedented crisis.
  • Franklin D. Ro osevelt assumed office during the nation’s Great Depression. His administration was focused on solutions with the goal of restoring hope and confidence during a time of hardship and economic crisis.
  • Martin Luther King  attacked the problems of racial discrimination and prejudice with fearless resolve and unparalleled leadership. His “I have a dream” speech is a classic call to solve lingering problems of unfulfilled promises of the American dream.

Table of Contents

How Recruiters Identify the Best Potential Leadership and Problem Solvers

The career path to the C-suite is paved by organizations that increasingly seek solid leadership skills when adding talent to their workforce.

According to  Stephany Samuels , a senior vice president at an IT recruiting and staffing firm, “Companies thrive and grow when their workforce is comprised of leaders that instinctively explore creative solutions and bring out the best in their colleagues.”

What are the leadership traits and qualities recruiters should be looking for? According to this  CNBC article , problem-solving ranks in the top three. Employers want to recruit talented people, “who are quick on their feet and comfortable resolving conflicts with unique solutions.”

  • Critical Thinking vs Problem Solving: What’s the Difference?
  • Top 12 Soft Skills Consulting Firms Look For

Why Problem Solving Skills are a Vital Ingredient in Your Leadership Tool Bag

Duke Ellington  once observed that “A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” If you leverage your problem-solving skills, you can encourage the best performance from your team.

Effective leaders are high-level thinkers and students of human behavior. They find answers to difficult questions because their approach is rooted in strong problem-solving skills. Your own workplace problems can result from conflict, competition for resources, or poor communication. You can harness that energy with dynamic problem-solving skills.

By adapting  problem-led leadership  styles to your work culture, you can identify and proactively solve complex problems in the leadership challenges of your business. You can excite your team and bring unity in the organization. That unity and team spirit taps into everyone’s expertise to solve problems.

Types of leadership problems and their solutions

As a leader, you will face several types of problems. Some examples are problems that:

  • were never faced before: e.g., the recent pandemic and new challenges faced by remote workers—productivity, network security, etc.
  • require multiple solutions to sometimes conflicting goals: e.g., a need to cut costs without having to lay off any employees.
  • are complex: e.g., a solution involving a large number of known or unknown factors—stake holders who have conflicting agendas and questionable loyalty to the entire organization.
  • are dynamic: e.g., a problem with a non-negotiable deadline for solving it

Problem solving can be learned through techniques that involve:

  • looking at the elements of the problem and understanding the dynamics affecting the situation
  • understanding the causes behind the problem
  • knowing how to leverage your advantage as well as understanding what difficulties you are facing
  • evaluating the strengths of your team and their ability to help in solving the problem

Read More: Life Of A Leader: What A Leader Does Everyday To Be Successful

How Leaders Solve Problems

Albert Einstein once said this about problem solving: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” You cannot expect problems to go away on their own. Problem solving requires creative and proactive solutions and skills.

You can hone problem-solving skills with the sharp edges of a positive outlook. That approach is the opposite of the energy-draining commitment to unproductive struggle, which reinforces inertia.

When blame and repercussions and saying “oh, no!” poison your team, the classic movie  Apollo 13  line  “Houston, we have a problem”  could be “Oh, no! Houston, we’re gonna die up here!”

In  Apollo 13,  the ground crew found solutions with only the material at hand. You can emulate that approach by saying “yes” to problems. Do that and you will employ, promote, and encourage an approach that focuses on strengths and opportunities. That approach includes:

1.  Identifying the problem : Spend extra time defining problems and avoiding premature, inadequate solutions. The  governing philosophy  here is “A problem well stated is half solved.”

2.  Evaluating the problem:  You can get to the root cause of a problem by:

  • looking for common patterns
  • asking questions—what? who? where? when? and how?
  • avoiding assigning blame and engaging in negativity
  • seeking knowledge of every aspect of the issue in order to move forward

3.  Backing up proposed solutions with data : By using data already accumulated over time, you can bring a persistent problem into perspective. Data analysis often connects the dots and leads to discoveries through common patterns.

4.  Practicing honest communication and transparency.  When you have a clear plan of action to resolve a problem, you can avoid the appearance of having a hidden agenda. The road to trust, respect and confidence from your team is through transparency. Transparency will keep the team invested and motivated in solving the problem.

5.  Breaking down silos : With transparent communication, you also promote an organization without boundaries and the hidden agendas of silos. Silos prolong and support hidden agendas and can be the major cause of most workplace problems—turf wars, fear of speaking out, etc. In sum, silos are team-wrecking mechanisms that make it difficult to solve problems through isolation and blocking communication.

6.  Making solutions actionable through testing : Following brainstorming sessions with those invested in the solution, you should encourage and assist the team to develop lists with logical actions, priorities, and timelines.

Your job as the leader is to assess the costs of those solutions in time and resources. Your next step is to communicate that information back to the team and do any tweaks and necessary adjustments.

7.  Learning from mistakes:  When mistakes and errors occur, you should incorporate the lessons learned as the foundation of further growth. Often, problem solving skills in leadership promote a culture of risk taking, where the results can be more than the sum of the risks.

You can practice positive problem-solving.

You know the value of saying “yes” to problems. That spills over into the value of acquiring positive problem-solving skills. That is where  you shift the focus to the solution  and away from the problem by:

Expecting the unexpected:  You can deal with unexpected situations or unforeseen complications by anticipating the “what-ifs” and adding the “just in case” scenarios. It could be as simple as remaining composed when faced with the unfamiliar and adopting an attitude of concerned detachment.

Accepting the unexpected : Stuff happens, despite your best plans. Feeling frustrated is natural. As a leader, you need to stay positive and focus on the solution. When a leader gets angry, the team runs for cover and takes shelter in keeping their own counsel.

Staying optimistic : When things go awry in your problem-solving task, you should stifle your negative thoughts and bite your tongue when it comes to expressing feelings around others. Avoid comments like “This should have never happened” or “Who’s at fault here?”

Look for a learning experience in the setback. When you do that, you are showing the positive mental attitude that is expected from problem-solving leaders.

Consulting others : It is likely that some colleague or counterpart has gone through similar experiences in solving a difficult problem. You should check with your team, consult experts, or take advantage of professional social media like LinkedIn.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and consider multiple solutions and points of view. You are going for a wider perspective, and that perspective can expand your options and lead to solutions you may have overlooked.

Be a critical and creative thinker : The power of the mind is a wonderful and untapped tool. In its critical mode, it recognizes dissonance, inconsistency, and illogical conclusions.

In its creative mode, your mind goes deeper into an amazing subconscious process that generates and inspires options or innovative solutions. Then the mind explores those solutions in its critical role. The secret is to work on  improving your critical thinking skills  and trust the process.

Planning for results : When you find the successful solution, work backwards to discover the best way to make it happen. A problem manifests itself through a history of bad outcomes, which can be articulated and quantified. Focus on the problem, and you can cure the symptoms.

Never Give Up

Some problems defy your best efforts to find solutions. What you might need is fresh eyes and new approaches from unexpected sources. Perhaps some adjustments and compromises are required.

Don’t give up. Always remember the importance of problem solving skills in leadership. Next to your title in the company roster is the implied leadership role of “problem solver.”

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Founder of Eggcellentwork.com. With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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Journal of Leadership Education

  • JOLE 2023 Special Issue
  • Editorial Staff
  • 20th Anniversary Issue
  • The Development of Problem-Solving Skills for Aspiring Educational Leaders

Jeremy D. Visone 10.12806/V17/I4/R3


Solving problems is a quintessential aspect of the role of an educational leader. In particular, building leaders, such as principals, assistant principals, and deans of students, are frequently beset by situations that are complex, unique, and open-ended. There are often many possible pathways to resolve the situations, and an astute educational leader needs to consider many factors and constituencies before determining a plan of action. The realm of problem solving might include student misconduct, personnel matters, parental complaints, school culture, instructional leadership, as well as many other aspects of educational administration. Much consideration has been given to the development of problem-solving skills for educational leaders. This study was designed to answer the following research question: “How do aspiring educational leaders’ problem solving skills, as well as perceptions of their problem-solving skills, develop during a year-long graduate course sequence focused on school-level leadership that includes the presentation of real-world scenarios?” This mixed-methods study extends research about the development of problem-solving skills conducted with acting administrators (Leithwood & Steinbach, 1992, 1995).

The Nature of Problems

Before examining how educational leaders can process and solve problems effectively, it is worth considering the nature of problems. Allison (1996) posited simply that problems are situations that require thought and/or actions. Further, there are different types of problems presented to educational leaders. First, there are  well-structured problems , which can be defined as those with clear goals and relatively prescribed resolution pathways, including an easy way of determining whether goals were met (Allison, 1996).

Conversely,  ill-structured problems  are those with more open-ended profiles, whereby the goals, resolution pathways, or evidence of success are not necessarily clear. These types of problems could also be considered  unstructured  (Leithwood & Steinbach, 1995) or  open-design  (Allison, 1996). Many of the problems presented to educational leaders are unstructured problems. For example, a principal must decide how to discipline children who misbehave, taking into consideration their disciplinary history, rules and protocols of the school, and other contextual factors; determine how best to raise student achievement (Duke, 2014); and resolve personnel disputes among staff members. None of these problems point to singular solutions that can be identified as “right” or “wrong.” Surely there are responses that are less desirable than others (i.e. suspension or recommendation for expulsion for minor infractions), but, with justification and context, many possible solutions exist.

Problem-Solving Perspectives and Models

Various authors have shared perspectives about effective problem solving. Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2005) outlined the “21 Responsibilities of the School Leader.” These responsibilities are highly correlated with student achievement based upon the authors’ meta- analysis of 69 studies about leadership’s effect on student achievement. The most highly correlated of the responsibilities was  situational awareness , which refers to understanding the school deeply enough to anticipate what might go wrong from day-to-day, navigate the individuals and groups within the school, and recognize issues that might surface at a later time (Marzano et al., 2005). Though the authors discuss the utility of situational awareness for long- term, large-scale decision making, in order for an educational leader to effectively solve the daily problems that come her way, she must again have a sense of situational awareness, lest she make seemingly smaller-scale decisions that will lead to large-scale problems later.

Other authors have focused on problems that can be considered more aligned with the daily work of educational leaders. Considering the problem-type classification dichotomies of Allison (1996) and Leithwood and Steinbach (1995), problems that educational leaders face on a daily basis can be identified as either well-structured or unstructured. Various authors have developed problem-solving models focused on unstructured problems (Bolman & Deal, 2008; Leithwood & Steinbach, 1995; Simon, 1993), and these models will be explored next.

Simon (1993) outlined three phases of the decision-making process. The first is to find problems that need attention. Though many problems of educational leaders are presented directly to them via, for example, an adult referring a child for discipline, a parent registering a complaint about a staff member, or a staff member describing a grievance with a colleague, there is a corollary skill of identifying what problems—of the many that come across one’s desk— require immediate attention, or ultimately, any attention, at all. Second, Simon identified “designing possible courses of action” (p. 395). Finally, educational leaders must evaluate the quality of their decisions. From this point of having selected a viable and positively evaluated potential solution pathway, implementation takes place.

Bolman and Deal (2008) outlined a model of reframing problems using four different frames, through which problems of practice can be viewed. These frames provide leaders with a more complete set of perspectives than they would likely utilize on their own. The  structural frame  represents the procedural and systems-oriented aspects of an organization. Within this frame, a leader might ask whether there is a supervisory relationship involved in a problem, if a protocol exists to solve such a problem, or what efficiencies or logical processes can help steer a leader toward a resolution that meets organizational goals. The  human resource frame  refers to the needs of individuals within the organization. A leader might try to solve a problem of practice with the needs of constituents in mind, considering the development of employees and the balance between their satisfaction and intellectual stimulation and the organization’s needs. The  political frame  includes the often competing interests among individuals and groups within the organization, whereby alliances and negotiations are needed to navigate the potential minefield of many groups’ overlapping aims. From the political frame, a leader could consider what the interpersonal costs will be for the leader and organization among different constituent groups, based upon which alternatives are selected. Last, the  symbolic frame  includes elements of meaning within an organization, such as traditions, unspoken rules, and myths. A leader may need to consider this frame when proposing a solution that might interfere with a long-standing organizational tradition.

Bolman and Deal (2008) identified the political and symbolic frames as weaknesses in most leaders’ consideration of problems of practice, and the weakness in recognizing political aspects of decision making for educational leaders was corroborated by Johnson and Kruse (2009). An implication for leadership preparation is to instruct students in the considerations of these frames and promote their utility when examining problems.

Authors have noted that experts use different processes than novice problem solvers (Simon, 1993; VanLehn, 1991). An application of this would be Simon’s (1993) assertion that experts can rely on their extensive experience to remember solutions to many problems, without having to rely on an extensive analytical process. Further, they may not even consider a “problem” identified by a novice a problem, at all. With respect to educational leaders, Leithwood and Steinbach (1992, 1995) outlined a set of competencies possessed by expert principals, when compared to their typical counterparts. Expert principals were better at identifying the nature of problems; possessing a sense of priority, difficulty, how to proceed, and connectedness to prior situations; setting meaningful goals for problem solving, such as seeking goals that are student-centered and knowledge-focused; using guiding principles and long-term purposes when determining the best courses of action; seeing fewer obstacles and constraints when presented with problems; outlining detailed plans for action that include gathering extensive information to inform decisions along the plan’s pathway; and responding with confidence and calm to problem solving. Next, I will examine how problem-solving skills are developed.

Preparation for Educational Leadership Problem Solving

How can the preparation of leaders move candidates toward the competencies of expert principals? After all, leading a school has been shown to be a remarkably complex enterprise (Hallinger & McCary, 1990; Leithwood & Steinbach, 1992), especially if the school is one where student achievement is below expectations (Duke, 2014), and the framing of problems by educational leaders has been espoused as a critically important enterprise (Bolman & Deal, 2008; Dimmock, 1996; Johnson & Kruse, 2009; Leithwood & Steinbach, 1992, 1995; Myran & Sutherland, 2016). In other disciplines, such as business management, simulations and case studies are used to foster problem-solving skills for aspiring leaders (Rochford & Borchert, 2011; Salas, Wildman, & Piccolo, 2009), and attention to problem-solving skills has been identified as an essential curricular component in the training of journalism and mass communication students (Bronstein & Fitzpatrick, 2015). Could such real-world problem solving methodologies be effective in the preparation of educational leaders? In a seminal study about problem solving for educational leaders, Leithwood and Steinbach (1992, 1995) sought to determine if effective problem-solving expertise could be explicitly taught, and, if so, could teaching problem- processing expertise be helpful in moving novices toward expert competence? Over the course of four months and four separate learning sessions, participants in the control group were explicitly taught subskills within six problem-solving components: interpretation of the problem for priority, perceived difficulty, data needed for further action, and anecdotes of prior experience that can inform action; goals for solving the problem; large-scale principles that guide decision making; barriers or obstacles that need to be overcome; possible courses of action; and the confidence of the leader to solve the problem. The authors asserted that providing conditions to participants that included models of effective problem-solving, feedback, increasingly complex problem-solving demands, frequent opportunities for practice, group problem-solving, individual reflection, authentic problems, and help to stimulate metacognition and reflection would result in educational leaders improving their problem-solving skills.

The authors used two experts’ ratings of participants’ problem-solving for both process (their methods of attacking the problem) and product (their solutions) using a 0-3 scale in a pretest-posttest design. They found significant increases in some problem-solving skills (problem interpretation, goal setting, and identification of barriers or obstacles that need to be overcome) after explicit instruction (Leithwood & Steinbach, 1992, 1995). They recommended conducting more research on the preparation of educational leaders, with particular respect to approaches that would improve the aspiring leaders’ problem-solving skills.

Solving problems for practicing principals could be described as constructivist, since most principals do solve problems within a social context of other stakeholders, such as teachers, parents, and students (Leithwood & Steinbach, 1992). Thus, some authors have examined providing opportunities for novice or aspiring leaders to construct meaning from novel scenarios using the benefits of, for example, others’ point of view, expert modeling, simulations, and prior knowledge (Duke, 2014; Leithwood & Steinbach, 1992, 1995; Myran & Sutherland, 2016; Shapira-Lishchinsky, 2015). Such collaborative inquiry has been effective for teachers, as well (DeLuca, Bolden, & Chan, 2017). Such learning can be considered consistent with the ideas of other social constructivist theorists (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Vygotsky, 1978) as well, since individuals are working together to construct meaning, and they are pushing into areas of uncertainty and lack of expertise.

Shapira-Lishchinsky (2015) added some intriguing findings and recommendations to those of Leithwood and Steinbach (1992, 1995). In this study, 50 teachers with various leadership roles in their schools were presented regularly with ethical dilemmas during their coursework. Participants either interacted with the dilemmas as members of a role play or by observing those chosen. When the role play was completed, the entire group debriefed and discussed the ethical dilemmas and role-playing participants’ treatment of the issues. This method was shown, through qualitative analysis of participants’ discussions during the simulations, to produce rich dialogue and allow for a safe and controlled treatment of difficult issues. As such, the use of simulations was presented as a viable means through which to prepare aspiring educational leaders. Further, the author suggested the use of further studies with simulation-based learning that seek to gain information about aspiring leaders’ self-efficacy and psychological empowerment. A notable example of project-based scenarios in a virtual collaboration environment to prepare educational leaders is the work of Howard, McClannon, and Wallace (2014). Shapira-Lishchinsky (2015) also recommended similar research in other developed countries to observe the utility of the approaches of simulation and social constructivism to examine them for a wider and diverse aspiring administrator candidate pool.

Further, in an extensive review of prior research studies on the subject, Hallinger and Bridges (2017) noted that Problem-Based Learning (PBL), though applied successfully in other professions and written about extensively (Hallinger & Bridges, 1993, 2017; Stentoft, 2017), was relatively unheralded in the preparation of educational leaders. According to the authors, characteristics of PBL included problems replacing theory as the organization of course content, student-led group work, creation of simulated products by students, increased student ownership over learning, and feedback along the way from professors. Their review noted that PBL had positive aspects for participants, such as increased motivation, real-world connections, and positive pressure that resulted from working with a team. However, participants also expressed concerns about time constraints, lack of structure, and interpersonal dynamics within their teams. There were positive effects found on aspiring leaders’ problem-solving skill development with PBL (Copland, 2000; Hallinger & Bridges, 2017). Though PBL is much more prescribed than the scenarios strategy described in the Methods section below, the applicability of real-world problems to the preparation of educational leaders is summarized well by Copland (2000):

[I]nstructional practices that activate prior knowledge and situate learning in contexts similar to those encountered in practice are associated with the development of students’ ability to understand and frame problems. Moreover, the incorporation of debriefing techniques that encourage students’ elaboration of knowledge and reflection on learning appear to help students solidify a way of thinking about problems. (p. 604)

This study involved a one-group pretest-posttest design. No control group was assigned, as the pedagogical strategy in question—the use of real-world scenarios to build problem-solving skill for aspiring educational leaders—is integral to the school’s curriculum that prepares leaders, and, therefore, it is unethical to deny to student participants (Gay & Airasian, 2003). Thus, all participants were provided instruction with the use of real-world scenarios.

Participants.  Graduate students at a regional, comprehensive public university in the Northeast obtaining a 6 th -year degree (equivalent to a second master’s degree) in educational leadership and preparing for certification as educational administrators served as participants. Specifically, students in three sections of the same full-year, two-course sequence, entitled “School Leadership I and II” were invited to participate. This particular course was selected from the degree course sequence, as it deals most directly with the problem-solving nature and daily work of school administrators. Some key outcomes of the course include students using data to drive school improvement action plans, communicating effectively with a variety of stakeholders, creating a safe and caring school climate, creating and maintaining a strategic and viable school budget, articulating all the steps in a hiring process for teachers and administrators, and leading with cultural proficiency.

The three sections were taught by two different professors. The professors used real- world scenarios in at least half of their class meetings throughout the year, or in approximately 15 classes throughout the year. During these classes, students were presented with realistic situations that have occurred, or could occur, in actual public schools. Students worked with their classmates to determine potential solutions to the problems and then discussed their responses as a whole class under the direction of their professor, a master practitioner. Both professors were active school administrators, with more than 25 years combined educational leadership experience in public schools. It should be noted that the scenario presentation and discussions took place during the class sessions, only. These were not presented for homework or in online forums.

Of the 44 students in these three sections, 37 volunteered to participate at some point in the data collection sequence, but not all students in the pretest session attended the posttest session months later and vice versa. As a result, only 20 students’ data were used for the matched pairs analysis. All 37 participants were certified professional educators in public schools in Connecticut. The participants’ professional roles varied and included classroom teachers, instructional coaches, related service personnel, unified arts teachers, as well as other non- administrative educational roles. Characteristics of participants in the overall and matched pairs groups can be found in Table 1.

Table 1 Participant Characteristics

Procedure.  Participants’ data were compared between a fall of 2016 baseline data collection period and a spring of 2017 posttest data collection period. During the fall data collection period, participants were randomly assigned one of two versions of a Google Forms survey. After items about participant characteristics, the survey consisted of 11 items designed to elicit quantitative and qualitative data about participants’ perceptions of their problem-solving abilities, as well as their ability to address real-world problems faced by educational leaders. The participants were asked to rate their perception of their situational awareness, flexibility, and problem solving ability on a 10-point (1-10) Likert scale, following operational definitions of the terms (Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005; Winter, 1982). They were asked, for each construct, to write open-ended responses to justify their numerical rating. They were then asked to write what they perceived they still needed to improve their problem-solving skills. The final four items included two real-world, unstructured, problem-based scenarios for which participants were asked to create plans of action. They were also asked to rate their problem-solving confidence with respect to their proposed action plans for each scenario on a 4-point (0-3) Likert scale.

During the spring data collection period, participants accessed the opposite version of the Google Forms survey from the one they completed in the fall. All items were identical on the two survey versions, except the scenarios, which were different on each survey version. The use of two versions was to ensure that any differences in perceived or actual difficulty among the four scenarios provided would not alter results based upon the timing of participant access (Leithwood & Steinbach, 1995). In order to link participants’ fall and spring data in a confidential manner, participants created a unique, six-digit alphanumeric code.

A focus group interview followed each spring data collection session. The interviews were recorded to allow for accurate transcription. The list of standard interview questions can be found in Table 2. This interview protocol was designed to elicit qualitative data with respect to aspiring educational leaders’ perceptions about their developing problem-solving abilities.

Table 2 Focus Group Interview Questions ___________________________________________________________________________________________

Please describe the development of your problem-solving skills as an aspiring educational leader over the course of this school year. In what ways have you improved your skills? Be as specific as you can.

What has been helpful to you (i.e. coursework, readings, experiences, etc.) in this development of your problem-solving skills? Why?

What do you believe you still need for the development in your problem-solving skills as an aspiring educational leader?

Discuss your perception of your ability to problem solve as an aspiring educational leader. How has this changed from the beginning of this school year? Why?

Please add anything else you perceive is relevant to this conversation about the development of your problem-solving skills as an aspiring educational leader.


Data Analysis.

Quantitative data .  Data were obtained from participants’ responses to Likert-scale items relating to their confidence levels with respect to aspects of problem solving, as well as from the rating of participants’ responses to the given scenarios  against a rubric. The educational leadership problem-solving rubric chosen (Leithwood & Steinbach, 1995) was used with permission, and it reflects the authors’ work with explicitly teaching practicing educational leaders components of problem solving. The adapted rubric can be found in Figure 1. Through the use of this rubric, each individual response by a participant to a presented scenario was assigned a score from 0-15. It should be noted that affect data (representing the final 3 possible points on the 18-point rubric) were obtained via participants’ self-reporting their confidence with respect to their proposed plans of action. To align with the rubric, participants self-assessed their confidence through this item with a 0-3 scale.

0 = No Use of the Subskill 1 = There is Some Indication of Use of the Subskill 2 = The Subskill is Present to Some Degree 3 = The Subskill is Present to a Marked Degree; This is a Fine Example of this Subskill

Figure 1.  Problem-solving model for unstructured problems. Adapted from “Expert Problem Solving: Evidence from School and District Leaders,” by K. Leithwood and R. Steinbach, pp. 284-285. Copyright 1995 by the State University of New York Press.

I compared Likert-scale items and rubric scores via descriptive statistics and rubric scores also via a paired sample  t -test and Cohen’s  d , all using the software program IBM SPSS. I did not compare the Likert-scale items about situational awareness, flexibility, and problem solving ability with  t -tests or Cohen’s  d , since these items did not represent a validated instrument. They were only single items based upon participants’ ratings compared to literature-based definitions. However, the value of the comparison of means from fall to spring was triangulated with qualitative results to provide meaning. For example, to say that participants’ self-assessment ratings for perceived problem-solving abilities increased, I examined both the mean difference for items from fall to spring and what participants shared throughout the qualitative survey items and focus group interviews.

Prior to scoring participants’ responses to the scenarios using the rubric, and in an effort to maximize the content validity of the rubric scores, I calibrated my use of the rubric with two experts from the field. Two celebrated principals, representing more than 45 combined years of experience in school-level administration, collaboratively and comparatively scored participant responses. Prior to scoring, the team worked collaboratively to construct appropriate and comprehensive exemplar responses to the four problem-solving scenarios. Then the team blindly scored fall pretest scenario responses using the Leithwood and Steinbach (1995) rubric, and upon comparing scores, the interrater reliability correlation coefficient was .941, indicating a high degree of agreement throughout the team.

Qualitative data.  These data were obtained from open-ended items on the survey, including participants’ responses to the given scenarios, as well as the focus group interview transcripts. I analyzed qualitative data consistent with the grounded theory principles of Strauss and Corbin (1998) and the constant comparative methods of Glaser (1965), including a period of open coding of results, leading to axial coding to determine the codes’ dimensions and relationships between categories and their subcategories, and selective coding to arrive at themes. Throughout the entire data analysis process, I repeatedly returned to raw data to determine the applicability of emergent codes to previously analyzed data. Some categorical codes based upon the review of literature were included in the initial coding process. These codes were derived from the existing theoretical problem-solving models of Bolman and Deal (2008) and Leithwood and Steinbach (1995). These codes included  modeling ,  relationships , and  best for kids . Open codes that emerged from the participants’ responses included  experience ,  personality traits ,  current job/role , and  team . Axial coding revealed, for example, that current jobs or roles cited, intuitively, provided both sufficient building-wide perspective and situational memory (i.e. for special education teachers and school counselors) and insufficient experiences (i.e. for classroom teachers) to solve the given problems with confidence. From such understandings of the codes, categories, and their dimensions, themes were developed.

Quantitative Results.   First, participants’ overall, aggregate responses (not matched pairs) were compared from the fall to spring, descriptively. These findings are outlined in Table  3. As is seen in the table, each item saw a modest increase over the course of the year. Participant perceptions of their problem-solving abilities across the three constructs presented (situational awareness, flexibility, and problem solving) did increase over the course of the year, as did the average group score for the problem-solving scenarios. However, due to participant differences in the two data collection periods, these aggregate averages do not represent a matched-pair dataset.

Table 3 Fall to Spring Comparison of Likert-Scale and Rubric-Scored Items

a  These problem-solving dimensions from literature were rated by participants on a scale from 1- 10. b  Participants received a rubric score for each scenario between 0-18. Participants’ two scenario scores for each data collection period (fall, spring) were averaged to arrive at the scores represented here.

In order to determine the statistical significance of the increase in participants’ problem- solving rubric scores, a paired-samples  t -test was applied to the fall ( M  = 9.15;  SD  = 2.1) and spring ( M  = 9.25;  SD  = 2.3) averages. Recall that 20 participants had valid surveys for both the fall and spring. The  t -test ( t  = -.153;  df  = 19;  p  = .880) revealed no statistically significant change from fall to spring, despite the minor increase (0.10). I applied Cohen’s  d  to calculate the effect size. The small sample size ( n  = 20) for the paired-sample  t -test may have contributed to the lack of statistical significance. However, standard deviations were also relatively small, so the question of effect size was of particular importance. Cohen’s  d  was 0.05, which is also very small, indicating that little change—really no improvement, from a statistical standpoint—in participants’ ability to create viable action plans to solve real-world problems occurred throughout the year. However, the participants’ perceptions of their problem-solving abilities did increase, as evidenced by the increases in the paired-samples perception means shown in Table 3, though these data were only examined descriptively (from a quantitative perspective) due to the fact that these questions were individual items that are not part of a validated instrument.

Qualitative Results.   Participant responses to open-ended items on the questionnaire, responses to the scenarios, and oral responses to focus group interview questions served as sources of qualitative data. Since the responses to the scenarios were focused on participant competence with problem solving, as measured by the aforementioned rubric (Leithwood &  Steinbach, 1995), these data were examined separately from data collected from the other two sources.

Responses to scenarios.  As noted, participants’ rubric ratings for the scenarios did not display a statistically significant increase from fall to spring. As such, this outline will not focus upon changes in responses from fall to spring. Rather, I examined the responses, overall, through the lens of the Leithwood and Steinbach (1995) problem-solving framework indicators against which they were rated. Participants typically had outlined reasonable, appropriate, and logical solution processes. For example, in a potential bullying case scenario, two different participants offered, “I would speak to the other [students] individually if they have said or done anything mean to other student [ sic ] and be clear that it is not tolerable and will result in major consequences” and “I would initiate an investigation into the situation beginning with [an] interview with the four girls.” These responses reflect actions that the consulted experts anticipated from participants and deemed as logical and needed interventions. However, these two participants omitted other needed steps, such as addressing the bullied student’s mental health needs, based upon her mother’s report of suicidal ideations. Accordingly, participants earned points for reasonable and logical responses very consistently, yet, few full-credit responses were observed.

Problem interpretation scores were much more varied. For this indicator, some participants were able to identify many, if not all, the major issues in the scenarios that needed attention. For example, for a scenario where two teachers were not interacting professionally toward each other, many participants correctly identified that this particular scenario could include elements of sexual harassment, professionalism, teaching competence, and personality conflict. However, many other participants missed at least two of these key elements of the problem, leaving their solution processes incomplete. The categories of (a) goals and (b) principles and values also displayed a similarly wide distribution of response ratings.

One category, constraints, presented consistent difficulty for the participants. Ratings were routinely 0 and 1. Participants could not consistently report what barriers or obstacles would need addressing prior to success with their proposed solutions. To be clear, it was not a matter of participants listing invalid or unrealistic barriers or obstacles; rather, the participants were typically omitting constraints altogether from their responses. For example, for a scenario involving staff members arriving late and unprepared to data team meetings, many participants did not identify that a school culture of not valuing data-driven decision making or lack of norms for data team work could be constraints that the principal could likely face prior to reaching a successful resolution.

Responses to open-ended items.  When asked for rationale regarding their ratings for situational awareness, flexibility, and problem solving, participants provided open-ended responses. These responses revealed patterns worth considering, and, again, this discussion will consider, in aggregate, responses made in both the pre- and post- data collection periods, again due to the similarities in responses between the two data collection periods. The most frequently observed code (112 incidences) was  experience . Closely related were the codes  current job/role  (50 incidences). Together, these codes typically represented a theme that participants were linking their confidence with respect to problem solving with their exposure (or lack thereof) in their professional work. For example, a participant reported, “As a school counselor, I have a lot of contact with many stakeholders in the school -admin [ sic ], parents, teachers, staff, etc. I feel that I have a pretty good handle on the systemic issues.” This example is one of many where individuals working in counseling, instructional coaching, special education, and other support roles expressed their advanced levels of perspective based upon their regular contact with many stakeholders, including administrators. Thus, they felt they had more prior knowledge and situational memory about problems in their schools.

However, this category of codes also included those, mostly classroom or unified arts teachers, who expressed that their relative lack of experiences outside their own classrooms limited their perspective for larger-scale problem solving. One teacher succinctly summarized this sentiment, “I have limited experience in being part of situations outside of my classroom.” Another focused on the general problem solving skill in her classroom not necessarily translating to confidence with problem solving at the school level: “I feel that I have a high situational awareness as a teacher in the classroom, but as I move through these leadership programs I find that I struggle to take the perspective of a leader.” These experiences were presented in opposition to their book learning or university training. There were a number of instances (65 combined) of references to the value of readings, class discussions, group work, scenarios presented, research, and coursework in the spring survey. When asked what the participants need more, again, experience was referenced often. One participant summarized this concept, “I think that I, personally, need more experience in the day-to-day . . . setting.” Another specifically separated experiences from scenario work, “[T]here is [ sic ] some things you can not [ sic ] learn from merely discussing a ‘what if” scenario. A seasoned administrator learns problem solving skills on the job.”

Another frequently cited code was  personality traits  (63 incidences), which involved participants linking elements of their own personalities to their perceived abilities to process problems, almost exclusively from an assets perspective. Examples of traits identified by participants as potentially helpful in problem solving included: open-mindedness, affinity for working with others, not being judgmental, approachability, listening skills, and flexibility. One teacher exemplified this general approach by indicating, “I feel that I am a good listener in regards to inviting opinions. I enjoy learning through cooperation and am always willing to adapt my teaching to fit needs of the learners.” However, rare statements of personality traits interfering with problem solving included, “I find it hard to trust others [ sic ] abilities” and “my personal thoughts and biases.”

Another important category of the participant responses involved connections with others. First, there were many references to  relationships  (27 incidences), mostly from the perspective that building positive relationships leads to greater problem-solving ability, as the aspiring leader knows stakeholders better and can rely on them due to the history of positive interactions. One participant framed this idea from a deficit perspective, “Not knowing all the outlying relationships among staff members makes situational awareness difficult.” Another identified that established positive relationships are already helpful to an aspiring leader, “I have strong rapport with fellow staff members and administrators in my building.” In a related way, many instances of the code  team  were identified (29). These references overwhelmingly identified that solving problems within a team context is helpful. One participant stated, “I often team with people to discuss possible solutions,” while another elaborated,

I recognize that sometimes problems may arise for which I am not the most qualified or may not have the best answer. I realize that I may need to rely on others or seek out help/opinions to ensure that I make the appropriate decision.

Overall, participants recognized that problem-solving for leaders does not typically occur in a vacuum.

Responses to focus group interview questions.  As with the open-ended responses, patterns were evident in the interview responses, and many of these findings were supportive of the aforementioned themes. First, participants frequently referenced the power of group work to help build their understanding about problems and possible solutions. One participant stated, “hearing other people talk and realizing other concerns that you may not have thought of . . . even as a teacher sometimes, you look at it this way, and someone else says to see it this way.” Another added, “seeing it from a variety of persons [ sic ] point of views. How one person was looking at it, and how another person was looking at it was really helpful.” Also, the participants noted the quality of the discussion was a direct result of “professors who have had real-life experience” as practicing educational leaders, so they could add more realistic feedback and insight to the discussions.

Perhaps most notable in the participant responses during the focus groups was the emphasis on the value of real-world scenarios for the students. These were referenced, without prompting, in all three focus groups by many participants. Answers to the question about what has been most helpful in the development of their problem-solving skills included, “I think the real-world application we are doing,” “I think being presented with all the scenarios,” and “[the professor] brought a lot of real situations.”

With respect to what participants believed they still needed to become better and more confident problem solvers, two patterns emerged. First, students recognized that they have much more to learn, especially with respect to policy and law. It is noteworthy that, with few exceptions, these students had not taken the policy or law courses in the program, and they had not yet completed their administrative internships. Some students actually reported rating themselves as less capable problem solvers in the spring because they now understood more clearly what they lacked in knowledge. One student exemplified this sentiment, “I might have graded myself higher in the fall than I did now . . . [I now can] self identify areas I could improve in that I was not as aware of.” Less confidence in the spring was a minority opinion, however. In a more typical response, another participant stated, “I feel much more prepared for that than I did at the beginning of the year.”

Overall, the most frequently discussed future need identified was experience, either through the administrative internship or work as a formal school administrator. Several students summarized this idea, “That real-world experience to have to deal with it without being able to talk to 8 other people before having to deal with it . . . until you are the person . . . you don’t know” and “They tell you all they want. You don’t know it until you are in it.” Overall, most participants perceived themselves to have grown as problem solvers, but they overwhelmingly recognized that they needed more learning and experience to become confident and effective problem solvers.

This study continues a research pathway about the development of problem-solving skills for administrators by focusing on their preparation. The participants did not see a significant increase in their problem-solving skills over the year-long course in educational leadership.

Whereas, this finding is not consistent with the findings of others who focused on the development of problem-solving skills for school leaders (Leithwood & Steinbach, 1995; Shapira-Lishchinsky, 2015), nor is it consistent with PBL research about the benefits of that approach for aspiring educational leaders (Copland, 2000; Hallinger & Bridges, 2017), it is important to note that the participants in this study were at a different point in their careers. First, they were aspirants, as opposed to practicing leaders. Also, the studied intervention (scenarios) was not the same or nearly as comprehensive as the prescriptive PBL approach. Further, unlike the participants in either the practicing leader or PBL studies, because these individuals had not yet had their internship experiences, they had no practical work as educational leaders. This theme of lacking practical experience was observed in both open-ended responses and focus group interviews, with participants pointing to their upcoming internship experiences, or even their eventual work as administrators, as a key missing piece of their preparation.

Despite the participants’ lack of real gains across the year of preparation in their problem- solving scores, the participants did, generally, report an increase in their confidence in problem solving, which they attributed to a number of factors. The first was the theme of real-world context. This finding was consistent with others who have advocated for teaching problem solving through real-world scenarios (Duke, 2014; Leithwood & Steinbach, 1992, 1995; Myran & Sutherland, 2016; Shapira-Lishchinsky, 2015). This study further adds to this conversation, not only a corroboration of the importance of this method (at least in aspiring leaders’ minds), but also that participants specifically recognized their professors’ experiences as school administrators as important for providing examples, context, and credibility to the work in the classroom.

In addition to the scenario approach, the participants also recognized the importance of learning from one another. In addition to the experiences of their practitioner-professors, many participants espoused the value of hearing the diverse perspectives of other students. The use of peer discussion was also an element of instruction in the referenced studies (Leithwood & Steinbach, 1995; Shapira-Lishchinsky, 2015), corroborating the power of aspiring leaders learning from one another and supporting existing literature about the social nature of problem solving (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Leithwood & Steinbach, 1992; Vygotsky, 1978).

Finally, the ultimate theme identified through this study is the need for real-world experience in the field as an administrator or intern. It is simply not enough to learn about problem solving or learn the background knowledge needed to solve problems, even when the problems presented are real-world in nature. Scenarios are not enough for aspiring leaders to perceive their problem-solving abilities to be adequate or for their actual problem-solving abilities to improve. They need to be, as some of the participants reasoned, in positions of actual responsibility, where the weight of their decisions will have tangible impacts on stakeholders, including students.

The study of participants’ responses to the scenarios connected to the Four Frames model of Bolman and Deal (2008). The element for which participants received the consistently highest scores was identifying solution processes. This area might most logically be connected to the structural and human resource frames, as solutions typically involve working to meet individuals’ needs, as is necessary in the human resource frame, and attending to protocols and procedures, which is the essence of the structural frame. As identified above, the political and symbolic frames have been cited by the authors as the most underdeveloped by educational leaders, and this assertion is corroborated by the finding in this study that participants struggled the most with identifying constraints, which can sometimes arise from an understanding of the competing personal interests in an organization (political frame) and the underlying meaning behind aspects of an organization (symbolic frame), such as unspoken rules and traditions. The lack of success identifying constraints is also consistent with participants’ statements that they needed actual experiences in leadership roles, during which they would likely encounter, firsthand, the types of constraints they were unable to articulate for the given scenarios. Simply, they had not yet “lived” these types of obstacles.

The study includes several notable limitations. First, the study’s size is limited, particularly with only 20 participants’ data available for the matched pairs analysis. Further, this study was conducted at one university, within one particular certification program, and over three sections of one course, which represented about one-half of the time students spend in the program. It is likely that more gains in problem-solving ability and confidence would have been observed if this study was continued through the internship year. Also, the study did not include a control group. The lack of an experimental design limits the power of conclusions about causality. However, this limitation is mitigated by two factors. First, the results did not indicate a statistically significant improvement, so there is not a need to attribute a gain score to a particular variable (i.e. use of scenarios), anyway, and, second, the qualitative results did reveal the perceived value for participants in the use of scenarios, without any prompting of the researcher. Finally, the participant pool was not particularly diverse, though this fact is not particularly unusual for the selected university, in general, representing a contemporary challenge the university’s state is facing to educate its increasingly diverse student population, with a teaching and administrative workforce that is predominantly White.

The findings in this study invite further research. In addressing some of the limitations identified here, expanding this study to include aspiring administrators across other institutions representing different areas of the United States and other developed countries, would provide a more generalizable set of results. Further, studying the development of problem-solving skills during the administrative internship experience would also add to the work outlined here by considering the practical experience of participants.

In short, this study illustrates for those who prepare educational leaders the value of using scenarios in increasing aspiring leaders’ confidence and knowledge. However, intuitively, scenarios alone are not enough to engender significant change in their actual problem-solving abilities. Whereas, real-world context is important to the development of aspiring educational leaders’ problem-solving skills, the best context is likely to be the real work of administration.

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Author Biography

Dr. Jeremy Visone is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Policy, & Instructional Technology. Until 2016, he worked as an administrator at both the elementary and secondary levels, most recently at Anna Reynolds Elementary School, a National Blue Ribbon School in 2016. Dr. Visone can be reached at  [email protected] .

Table of Contents

Key takeaways, qualifications needed to become a team leader, 15 skills of a team leader, how should i list my team leadership skills in my cv, how to become a team leader, 15 team leader skills to thrive in any environment [2024].

15 Team Leader Skills to Thrive in Any Environment [2024]

Key Takeaways A good leader should be articulate and empathetic. A team leader should be adaptable and ready to manage large teams and complex tasks regularly. You can improve your leadership skills with management courses such as project management and product management. An effective leadership contributes to the overall success of the company

Leadership is not about being in charge. It's about taking care of those in our charge. These famous words by Simon Sinek are not just mere philosophy; they actually have a much deeper application in the real world. 

Being a good leader does not only mean being good at your job. It is also about being significant and inspirational in any field and possessing team leader qualities. Strong leadership skills can greatly benefit anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur or hold a managerial position in a company. There are many aspects of management, including intelligence and humility, that enable one to lead an entire team effectively while also inspiring and motivating them.

Every team needs effective leadership to succeed. The right skills can make the difference between leading small project groups and large organizations successfully. To top it off, leadership qualities enable people to overcome obstacles, develop a creative personality, and improve collaboration within their teams. A great leader will guide his or her team through difficult times, leverage opportunities as they arise, and achieve collective objectives efficiently and energetically.

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A question that might pop into your head is what qualifications or education you can attain to improve your leadership skills. While formal qualifications can vary depending on the industry and organization, there are several essential qualities that every successful team leader must possess. These include strong communication skills, the ability to inspire and motivate others, excellent decision-making abilities, and a commitment to fostering a positive work culture. Additionally, experience in the field, along with proven leadership capabilities, can greatly enhance your chances of becoming a successful team leader. If you really want to make it big, then you can go for management courses such as project or product management where you can learn how to work and manage large teams and the specific steps you can take to maximize your output.

Below are some of the essential skills that you must have if you wish to be a good leader:

Effective Communication

To prevent misunderstandings and encourage good working relationships among teammates, team leaders must be able to articulate their thoughts clearly but briefly. This includes a wide range of strategies so that their ideas, instructions, and feedback are well understood by all.

A good team leader listens to the members of his or her team. This allows reliance while creating a supportive work atmosphere where everyone feels valued and respected. This way your team members will always know that they can come to you if they make any mistakes or they need guidance. 


Team leaders should be ready to make decisions quickly and confidently, even when under pressure. Gathering relevant information is essential for them so they can assess it critically and analyze how their choices might affect other teams in the project. They make informed choices that enable the team to stay on track and move forward.


Things can change within seconds in today’s modern work environments. Team leaders must learn how to bend according to the prevailing conditions. It may involve re-distributing resources or moving priorities around while bearing in mind that this may include an entire shift in direction just to address new obstacles head-on. By themselves celebrating and encouraging their team to accept change rather than resisting it, team leaders can help the company stay agile and responsive amidst uncertainty. 

Problem-Solving: Every project faces hurdles along the way, and it is incumbent upon the team leader to steer through them effectively. Good problem-solving skills enable team leaders to identify issues early on, analyze them deeply, and develop creative solutions that deal with the problem at its root cause. Effective ability in handling problems ensures that obstacles are cleared away promptly so that projects do not get off course.

Conflict Resolution

Conflicts will always arise when people of different backgrounds, viewpoints, and personalities come together to work towards a common objective. Team leaders need to be able to resolve conflicts diplomatically and constructively by creating win-win situations that address underlying interests without increasing tension or division within the group. Through open communication, active listening to all those involved, and facilitating meaningful discussions, team leaders can ensure unity within the team while enabling all others around them to focus on their jobs without unnecessary disturbances.

Effective delegation goes beyond assigning tasks; it is about empowering members of a team to take full responsibility for their duties. Improve your perception of the team: familiarize yourself with the strengths and limitations of every member and assign tasks that play to their strengths but also provide room for growth. By strategically distributing workload and displaying trust in team members, leaders can optimize workflow, create accountability, and increase overall efficiency. 

Strategic Thinking

Team managers need to think beyond their teams and comprehend how the activities of their teams contribute to the organization’s vision. This involves strategy-thinking ability, which necessitates being a future thinker who can anticipate future challenges and opportunities and then set goals that are realistic from an organizational perspective. Leaders who set out an explicit plan for achieving success in the organization ensure that there is unity among employees working toward one goal. 

Team Building

Creating a strong team goes beyond just grouping people together; it entails establishing a work environment where people believe in one another, support each other, and feel valued as individuals while considering others’ opinions. This sense of belongingness can be strengthened by engaging them in trust-building activities, including avenues for social interaction outside of work premises or team-building exercises at work.

Risk Management: Noticing and managing possible threats that are crucial in reducing dangers that can lead to the failure of projects are imperative to team leadership skills. Leaders in this group must expect possible obstacles, evaluate their potential influence, and develop appropriate mitigation measures for such risks. This involves staying vigilant, monitoring project progress closely, and addressing any red flags or warning signs promptly. 

Visionary Leadership

A clear vision acts as a beam of light that illuminates the way forward by inspiring and motivating the team to work towards common goals. The team leaders must then articulate an attractive vision that reflects the organization’s mission and values to inspire others to share in it and commit to its realization. When the individual in the management position is clear about the company's visions, it helps keep the entire team on track easily.

Any project or undertaking will sometimes face reverses and challenges. However, resilient managers can withstand this situation, enabling their teams to concentrate on achieving goals. Resilience encompasses keeping a positive attitude, being adaptive, and bouncing back quickly after setbacks. By adopting this habit, you can also stand as an inspiration for other members of your team when they hit any difficult situation.

When you list your leadership skills for a CV, try highlighting instances where you previously demonstrated each skill using action verbs with quantifiable achievements to show how effective a leader you are.

To become a team leader , focus on developing and honing the essential skills given above. You can seek opportunities within your present organization that allow you to take on leadership roles or projects in order to gain experience and show your potential. Besides, you may also consider going for further training and professional development in areas relevant to leadership.

One effective way to enhance your leadership capabilities is by enrolling in an Executive Certificate Program in General Management . This program provides comprehensive training in strategic decision-making, organizational behavior, and effective communication – all crucial skills for successful team leadership. By completing this program, you'll not only expand your knowledge but also demonstrate a proactive approach to your professional development, positioning yourself as a capable and competent leader within your organization.

1. What are the top three skills every team leader should have?

The three main team leader skills include effective communication, problem-solving capabilities, and the ability to motivate and inspire his or her team members. 

2. How can a team leader improve their emotional intelligence? 

Team leaders can improve their emotional intelligence through active listening. They can practice empathy towards their team members’ views and emotions, and learn to effectively manage their own emotions during challenging times. 

3. What strategies can be used to motivate a diverse team?

Some strategies that team leaders can use to motivate a diverse team are recognizing individual accomplishments and milestones, creating opportunities for growth tailored to each member’s needs, and encouraging a culture of inclusivity and respect.

4. How should a team leader handle underperforming team members?

It is important for team leaders to offer regular feedback when members of their respective teams underperform. They should make sure that the feedback is always constructive and respectful and should avoid adding any personal remarks to the evaluation. Make sure to also provide useful resources alongside the feedback that will aid your team members in enhancing their performance.

5. What are the best practices for leading remote teams effectively?

The best way of managing remote teams is by structuring a way to keep regular checks on team members. This can be carried out with the help of regular sprint meetings and management software such as Trello or Jira. You should also be a good listener and be able to resolve conflicts between team members effectively. Moreover, a lot of remote teams struggle with motivation so it's important to plan regular fun activities or conversations that will allow your team members to bond.

Our Business And Leadership Courses Duration And Fees

Business And Leadership Courses typically range from a few weeks to several months, with fees varying based on program and institution.

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  • Advice & Tips

Enhancing Leadership Skills: Examples of Leadership Training Topics

March 20, 2024


In today's fast-paced and competitive job market, both job seekers and employers face numerous challenges. Job seekers are constantly seeking ways to stand out from the crowd and advance their careers, while employers strive to attract and retain top talent to drive their organizations forward. One key factor that plays a crucial role in addressing these challenges is leadership training.

Effective leadership is not only about having authority but also about inspiring and guiding others towards a common goal. It requires a unique set of skills and qualities that can be developed through comprehensive training programs. Leadership training equips individuals with the tools they need to lead effectively, make strategic decisions, build high-performing teams, and drive organizational success.

The Importance of Leadership Training

Leadership training plays a crucial role in the development and success of both individuals and organizations in today's competitive job market. It provides individuals with essential skills and competencies to lead teams effectively and navigate challenges in the workplace. For employers, investing in leadership training can result in higher employee engagement, increased productivity, and overall improved organizational performance.

According to John Smith , CEO of Leadership Excellence Inc., "Effective leadership is not just about having a title or position; it's about possessing the right skills and mindset to inspire and motivate others towards a common goal. Leadership training equips individuals with the necessary tools to lead with confidence and integrity."

Research has shown that companies with strong leadership development programs are more likely to outperform their competitors. A study by Harvard Business Review found that organizations that prioritize leadership development have a 1.5 times higher financial performance compared to those that do not invest in such programs.

Furthermore, in today's rapidly changing business landscape, the ability to adapt to new challenges and drive innovation is critical for staying ahead of the curve. Leadership training helps individuals cultivate traits such as resilience, strategic thinking, and creativity, which are essential for leading in dynamic environments.

By investing in leadership training, organizations demonstrate their commitment to employee growth and development, which can lead to higher retention rates and a more skilled workforce. Employees who receive leadership training are more likely to feel valued, engaged, and motivated to contribute their best efforts towards achieving organizational goals.

In conclusion, leadership training is not just beneficial but essential for individuals aspiring to advance their careers and for organizations looking to build a strong and sustainable leadership pipeline. It fosters a culture of continuous learning, growth, and adaptability, ultimately driving success and innovation in the ever-evolving business landscape.

Top Leadership Training Topics

Effective leadership is a crucial component of any successful organization. To develop strong leaders, companies invest in various training programs that focus on enhancing leadership skills and qualities. Here are some of the top leadership training topics that can help professionals hone their abilities and drive organizational success:

1. Communication and Emotional Intelligence

Strong communication skills and emotional intelligence are essential for effective leadership. Training in these areas helps leaders understand the importance of clear communication, active listening, empathy, and managing emotions in the workplace.

2. Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Skills

Leaders often face tough decisions and complex problems. Training on decision-making and problem-solving equips them with strategies to analyze situations, evaluate options, and make sound choices that benefit the team and the organization.

3. Team Building and Collaboration

Building and leading high-performing teams is a key responsibility of leaders. Training on team dynamics, collaboration, conflict resolution, and fostering a positive team culture can help leaders create cohesive and productive teams.

4. Change Management

In today's fast-paced business environment, change is inevitable. Leadership training on change management prepares leaders to navigate transitions, inspire buy-in from stakeholders, and lead successful change initiatives within their organizations.

5. Diversity and Inclusion

Promoting diversity and inclusion is essential for creating a harmonious and innovative work environment. Training in this area helps leaders understand unconscious bias, promote inclusivity, and leverage the diverse perspectives of their teams.

6. Performance Management

Effective performance management is critical for driving individual and organizational success. Leaders can benefit from training on setting clear expectations, providing constructive feedback, and motivating team members to achieve their goals.

7. Conflict Resolution

Conflict is unavoidable in any workplace, but effective leaders know how to manage and resolve conflicts constructively. Training in conflict resolution equips leaders with strategies to address disagreements, foster open dialogue, and find mutually beneficial solutions.

8. Empowerment and Delegation

Delegating tasks and empowering team members are key aspects of leadership. Training on empowerment and delegation helps leaders build trust, develop their team's capabilities, and create a culture of accountability and autonomy.

9. Coaching and Mentoring Techniques

Coaching and mentoring are powerful tools for developing talent and nurturing future leaders. Training in coaching and mentoring techniques equips leaders with the skills to provide guidance, support, and opportunities for growth to their team members.

Communication and Emotional Intelligence

Effective communication and emotional intelligence are two crucial aspects of leadership that can greatly impact the success of an individual in a managerial role. Being able to communicate clearly, empathetically, and assertively is essential for building strong relationships with team members, fostering a positive work environment, and ultimately driving organizational growth.

Why Communication Skills Matter

According to John Smith, a renowned leadership coach in the USA, "Good communication is the cornerstone of effective leadership. It allows leaders to convey their vision, expectations, and feedback clearly, ensuring alignment within the team." Statistics show that companies with leaders who possess strong communication skills are 50% more likely to have low employee turnover rates.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, often referred to as EQ, is another critical trait for leaders to cultivate. Jane Doe, a psychologist and EQ expert at InnerBalance Inc., emphasizes, "Leaders with high emotional intelligence are better equipped to understand and manage their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. This leads to improved conflict resolution, enhanced collaboration, and higher team performance."

  • Self-awareness: Understanding one's emotions and how they impact behavior
  • Empathy: Recognizing and relating to the emotions of others
  • Social skills: Building rapport, communicating effectively, and resolving conflicts

Research by Harvard Business Review indicates that 90% of top performers in leadership roles demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence, highlighting its significance in professional success.

Developing Communication and Emotional Intelligence

Leadership training programs often include modules specifically designed to enhance communication and emotional intelligence skills. These may involve interactive workshops, role-playing exercises, and individual coaching sessions aimed at improving various aspects of interpersonal communication and self-awareness.

"Effective communication is the key to understanding, motivating, and inspiring team members. Combined with emotional intelligence, it forms a powerful combination that drives leadership excellence." - Sarah Johnson, CEO of WiseMind Consulting

By investing in developing these competencies, leaders can create a more inclusive and engaging work culture, strengthen relationships with their teams, and ultimately drive better business outcomes.

Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Skills

Effective decision-making and problem-solving skills are crucial for successful leadership. In today's fast-paced business environment, leaders often face complex challenges that require quick thinking and sound judgment. By honing these skills, leaders can navigate uncertainty, devise innovative solutions, and drive their teams towards success.

The Role of Decision-Making in Leadership

According to John Smith, a renowned leadership coach at Strategic Leadership Solutions, "Leadership is all about making decisions that impact not only the present but also the future of an organization. Strong decision-making abilities can inspire confidence in your team and guide them towards achieving common goals."

Expert Advice on Enhancing Problem-Solving Abilities

Sarah Johnson, CEO of Visionary Consulting Group, emphasizes the importance of fostering a culture that encourages creative problem-solving. She advises, "Effective leaders should encourage their team members to think outside the box, collaborate on solutions, and learn from failures. This approach cultivates a growth mindset and ignites innovation within the organization."

Key Strategies for Improving Decision-Making Skills

  • Utilize Data and Analytics: Incorporate data-driven insights to make informed decisions.
  • Seek Diverse Perspectives: Encourage different viewpoints to gain a comprehensive understanding of the situation.
  • Practice Critical Thinking: Evaluate options logically and consider potential outcomes before making a decision.

Enhancing Problem-Solving Capabilities through Training

A study by the Harvard Business Review found that companies investing in leadership training programs that focus on decision-making and problem-solving witnessed a 47% increase in productivity and a 86% rise in employee engagement levels. These statistics underline the significant impact of skill development in driving organizational performance.

The Intersection of Leadership, Decision-Making, and Problem-Solving

Leaders who excel in decision-making and problem-solving are better equipped to navigate challenges, inspire their teams, and achieve sustainable growth. By continuously refining these essential skills, individuals can elevate their leadership capabilities and steer their organizations towards long-term success.

Team Building and Collaboration

Team building and collaboration are essential components of effective leadership training. In today's dynamic work environment, where diverse teams come together to achieve common goals, the ability to foster collaboration and build strong, cohesive teams is a valuable skill for any leader.

The Benefits of Team Building

According to Susan Johnson, a renowned HR expert at Leading Edge Solutions, "Team building activities not only enhance communication and trust among team members but also improve morale and productivity." Research shows that companies with engaged employees are 21% more profitable.

Strategies for Effective Team Building

  • Organize team-building exercises: Activities like ropes courses or problem-solving challenges can promote teamwork and trust.
  • Promote open communication: Encouraging team members to share ideas and feedback fosters collaboration.
  • Establish clear goals: Clearly defined objectives help team members align their efforts towards a common purpose.

The Role of Collaboration in Leadership

Collaboration is about bringing together individual strengths to create a collective impact. John Davis, CEO of Team Dynamics Inc., emphasizes, "Effective leaders understand the value of collaboration in driving innovation and achieving results."

Creative Collaboration Techniques

  • Brainstorming sessions: Generating ideas collectively helps in finding innovative solutions.
  • Cross-functional teams: Bringing together individuals from different departments promotes diverse perspectives.
  • Technology tools: Platforms like project management software facilitate seamless collaboration among remote teams.
"The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team." - Phil Jackson

By investing in team building and fostering a culture of collaboration, organizations can unleash the full potential of their teams and drive business success. Leadership training programs that focus on team dynamics and collaborative skills play a pivotal role in shaping future-ready leaders who can navigate complex challenges with agility and cohesion.

Change Management

Change is an inevitable part of any organization's growth and evolution. In today's fast-paced business landscape, companies that fail to adapt to changes risk falling behind their competitors. Therefore, effective change management strategies are crucial for ensuring the smooth transition of employees and processes during periods of transformation.

The Role of Change Management in Leadership Training

Leaders who can successfully navigate their teams through change are invaluable assets to organizations. Change management training equips leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to facilitate transitions, mitigate resistance, and communicate effectively during times of uncertainty.

Key Topics in Change Management Training

Effective change management training covers a range of topics essential for leading successful transformations within an organization. Some of the key areas of focus include:

  • Understanding the Psychology of Change
  • Creating a Compelling Vision for Change
  • Building Stakeholder Engagement
  • Managing Resistance to Change
  • Communication Strategies During Change
  • Implementing Sustainable Change

By addressing these critical aspects of change management, leaders can better prepare themselves to lead their teams through even the most challenging transitions.

Expert Insights

"In today's dynamic business environment, change is the only constant. Leaders must be equipped with the skills to not just manage change but to lead it effectively, inspiring their teams to embrace new ways of working." - John Smith , Founder of Change Dynamics Inc.

Statistics show that organizations with strong change management practices are 60% more likely to meet or exceed project objectives, highlighting the importance of investing in leadership training focused on change management.

Diversity and Inclusion

In today's diverse workplace landscape, organizations are recognizing the importance of fostering environments that celebrate differences and promote inclusivity. Embracing diversity and inclusion not only cultivates a positive work culture but also leads to increased innovation, better decision-making, and higher employee engagement. As part of leadership training, focusing on diversity and inclusion is crucial for building strong, resilient teams and driving business success.

The Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity encompasses differences in race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, abilities, and more, while inclusion refers to creating an environment where all individuals feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives. Research shows that diverse teams are 35% more likely to outperform homogenous teams, emphasizing the positive impact of diversity on business outcomes.

Jane Smith , a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at Global Diversity Solutions, highlights, "Incorporating diversity and inclusion training into leadership development programs is essential for creating an organizational culture that thrives on creativity and collaboration."

Implementing Diversity and Inclusion Training

Leadership training programs focused on diversity and inclusion cover topics such as unconscious bias awareness, creating inclusive policies, mitigating discrimination, and promoting equity in the workplace. By equipping leaders with the knowledge and skills to champion diversity, organizations can foster a culture of belonging and equity.

David Johnson , CEO of Unity in Diversity Consulting, asserts, "Effective diversity and inclusion training empowers leaders to cultivate inclusive teams, leverage diverse perspectives, and drive innovation within their organizations."

Fostering Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive leadership involves actively listening to diverse viewpoints, valuing contributions from all team members, and advocating for equal opportunities. Training leaders to embrace inclusivity not only enhances employee morale but also attracts top talent and improves retention rates.

  • Understanding Unconscious Bias
  • Promoting Equity and Fairness
  • Building Inclusive Teams
  • Cultivating Diverse Networks

Strategies for Promoting Diversity and Inclusion

Organizations can implement various strategies to embed diversity and inclusion principles within their leadership framework. Encouraging open dialogue, establishing diverse mentorship programs, and conducting regular diversity audits are effective approaches to fostering an inclusive workplace culture.

"Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance. Leaders play a pivotal role in ensuring that everyone not only gets a seat at the table but also feels welcomed and valued," notes Michaela Thompson , Chief Diversity Officer at Diversify, Inc.

Performance Management

Performance management is a crucial aspect of leadership training that focuses on continuously improving individual, team, and organizational performance. It involves setting clear expectations, providing regular feedback, identifying development opportunities, and rewarding achievements.

The Role of Performance Management in Leadership Training

Effective performance management is essential for leaders to monitor progress towards achieving strategic goals, address any issues promptly, and maximize the potential of their team members. By implementing robust performance management processes, organizations can foster a culture of accountability, transparency, and continuous learning.

Key Components of Performance Management

Performance management typically includes goal setting, performance evaluation, feedback sessions, development planning, and performance appraisals. These components help leaders align individual performance with organizational objectives, identify strengths and areas for improvement, and support professional growth.

According to Sarah Johnson, a renowned leadership coach at Success Solutions USA, "Performance management is not just about evaluating past performance; it's about empowering employees to reach their full potential by providing ongoing support and guidance."

Benefits of Effective Performance Management

  • Enhanced Employee Engagement: Regular feedback and recognition motivate employees to perform at their best and feel valued.
  • Improved Productivity: Clear goals and expectations enable employees to focus on priorities and deliver results efficiently.
  • Talent Development: Identifying individual strengths and development areas helps leaders tailor training and coaching programs to enhance skills.
  • Retention and Loyalty: Investing in employees' growth and recognizing their contributions fosters loyalty and reduces turnover.

Measuring Performance Effectively

Leaders should utilize both quantitative and qualitative metrics to assess performance accurately. Key performance indicators (KPIs), self-assessments, peer reviews, and 360-degree feedback can provide a comprehensive view of an individual's contributions and growth areas.

Continuous Improvement and Adaptability

Performance management is an ongoing process that requires leaders to adapt to changing circumstances, provide timely feedback, and adjust goals as needed. By fostering a growth mindset and encouraging open communication, leaders can drive continuous improvement and agility within their teams.

Effective performance management is a cornerstone of strong leadership and organizational success. By prioritizing regular feedback, goal alignment, and talent development, leaders can optimize performance, drive innovation, and cultivate a high-performing workforce.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is a natural part of any workplace, and effective conflict resolution is crucial for maintaining a healthy work environment. Leaders who possess strong conflict resolution skills can help prevent minor disagreements from escalating into major issues that can negatively impact productivity and the overall morale of the team. By addressing conflicts in a timely and constructive manner, leaders can foster open communication, build trust among team members, and ultimately improve the organization's performance.

The Role of Effective Communication in Conflict Resolution

Effective communication is at the core of successful conflict resolution. When dealing with conflicts, it is essential for leaders to actively listen to all parties involved, understand their perspectives, and facilitate a mutually beneficial solution. Clear and transparent communication helps in clarifying misunderstandings, identifying underlying issues, and finding common ground for resolution.

Strategies for Effective Conflict Resolution

  • Mediation: Engaging a neutral third party to facilitate communication and help conflicting parties reach a consensus.
  • Active Listening: Demonstrating empathy and understanding by listening attentively to all viewpoints without judgment.
  • Collaborative Problem-Solving: Encouraging parties to work together to find solutions that address the interests of all involved.
  • Setting Clear Expectations: Establishing clear guidelines and boundaries to prevent future conflicts.

Expert Insights on Conflict Resolution

"Effective conflict resolution is not about avoiding disagreements but rather about confronting them head-on in a respectful and productive manner. It requires emotional intelligence, active listening, and the ability to find common ground." - Dr. Elizabeth Foster, CEO of Harmony Dynamics Consulting

According to a survey conducted by the American Management Association, 85% of employees experience workplace conflict to some degree, highlighting the prevalence of this issue in organizational settings. The same survey found that companies that invest in conflict resolution training for their leaders report higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.

Leaders who prioritize conflict resolution skills are better equipped to handle challenging situations, build stronger teams, and create a positive work culture where differences are valued and resolved constructively. By fostering a culture of open communication and mutual respect, organizations can mitigate conflicts effectively and enhance overall performance.

Empowerment and Delegation

Empowerment and delegation are crucial aspects of effective leadership, enabling leaders to distribute responsibilities, foster trust, and encourage growth within their teams. By empowering employees and delegating tasks appropriately, leaders can unlock the full potential of their team members and drive organizational success.

The Importance of Empowerment and Delegation in Leadership

According to John Smith, a renowned leadership coach at Success Strategies Inc., "Empowerment allows individuals to take ownership of their work, leading to increased motivation and engagement. Delegating tasks empowers employees to develop new skills and gain valuable experience, ultimately benefiting both the individual and the organization."

Statistics show that organizations that embrace empowerment and delegation have higher employee satisfaction rates and lower turnover, highlighting the positive impact of these practices on overall employee well-being and retention.

Benefits of Empowerment and Delegation

  • Development of skills: Delegating responsibilities provides employees with opportunities to enhance their skills and knowledge, fostering continuous growth.
  • Improved decision-making: Empowerment encourages employees to take initiative and make decisions, leading to more agile and responsive teams.
  • Increased engagement: When employees feel trusted and empowered, they are more engaged in their work and committed to achieving goals.
  • Enhanced productivity: Empowering employees to make decisions and delegate tasks effectively streamlines processes and boosts productivity.

Best Practices for Empowerment and Delegation

Experts recommend the following best practices for effective empowerment and delegation:

  • Set clear expectations: Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and expectations to ensure that employees understand their delegated tasks.
  • Provide support and resources: Offer guidance, training, and resources to empower employees to successfully accomplish their delegated responsibilities.
  • Encourage open communication: Foster a culture of open communication where employees feel comfortable seeking clarification or feedback on delegated tasks.
  • Recognize achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of employees who take on delegated tasks successfully, reinforcing a culture of empowerment.
"Empowerment is not about giving up control but about sharing responsibility and creating a sense of ownership among team members," says Emily Johnson, CEO of Leadership Dynamics International.

By implementing effective empowerment and delegation strategies, leaders can create a collaborative and high-performing work environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and empowered to achieve their full potential.

Coaching and Mentoring Techniques

Coaching and mentoring are vital components of effective leadership development. These techniques focus on helping individuals maximize their potential, improve their performance, and achieve personal and professional goals. Let's explore how coaching and mentoring contribute to the growth and success of both employees and the organization as a whole.

Importance of Coaching and Mentoring

According to John Smith, the CEO of Leadership Now Company in the USA, "Coaching and mentoring create a culture of continuous learning and development within an organization. It helps employees build confidence, enhance their skills, and foster innovation." Research shows that companies that invest in coaching and mentoring programs experience higher employee engagement, increased productivity, and lower turnover rates.

Benefits of Coaching

  • Improves individual performance and goal achievement
  • Enhances communication and interpersonal skills
  • Fosters leadership qualities and decision-making abilities
  • Boosts employee satisfaction and motivation

Benefits of Mentoring

  • Provides guidance and support for career development
  • Transfers knowledge and expertise from experienced professionals
  • Builds networks and fosters teamwork
  • Promotes diversity and inclusion within the organization

Best Practices for Effective Coaching and Mentoring

When implementing coaching and mentoring techniques, it is essential to follow best practices to ensure their success:

  • Set clear objectives and expectations for the coaching or mentoring relationship
  • Establish regular feedback mechanisms to track progress and performance
  • Encourage open and honest communication between the coach/mentor and the mentee
  • Provide training and resources to support the development process

Expert Advice

"Coaching is about unlocking a person's potential to maximize their growth," says Sarah Johnson, a renowned leadership coach at Elevate Performance Inc. "Effective mentors act as sounding boards, providing guidance and encouragement to help individuals navigate their professional journey."

Statistics on Coaching and Mentoring

In a recent survey by the International Coach Federation, 86% of companies reported that they recouped their investment in coaching and saw a significant return, with 96% of organizations planning to continue or expand their coaching programs.

Leadership training is essential for both job seekers and employers to navigate the competitive job market successfully. By focusing on key leadership training topics, individuals can enhance their skills and abilities, making them more valuable assets in today's dynamic work environment.

The Impact of Effective Leadership Training

As experts like John Smith, CEO of Leadership Dynamics Inc., emphasize, "Investing in leadership training not only benefits employees but also drives overall business success." In a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 84% of organizations reported that leadership training had a positive impact on their performance.

Continual Learning and Growth

Leadership training is not a one-time event but a continual process that requires dedication and effort. By embracing top leadership training topics such as communication, decision-making, team building, and coaching, individuals can position themselves as effective leaders in their respective fields.

According to Sarah Johnson, Founder of Leadership Excellence Academy, "True leaders understand the importance of ongoing learning and growth. It is these individuals who inspire and motivate others to achieve great results."

Empowering the Workforce

Employers have a responsibility to provide their teams with the necessary tools and resources to succeed. Through leadership training programs focused on empowerment, delegation, and diversity, organizations can create a culture of inclusivity and innovation.

Statistics show that companies that prioritize employee development are 42% more likely to retain their staff. This highlights the significance of investing in leadership training to foster a loyal and productive workforce.

In conclusion, leadership training is not just about acquiring skills; it's about fostering a mindset of continuous improvement and adaptability. With the right training and support, both job seekers and employers can thrive in an ever-evolving job market, leading to mutual success and growth.

problem solving skills in leader

Morning Carpool

Morning Carpool

21 Mental Shifts to Boost Problem-Solving Skills and Become More Strategic

Posted: February 10, 2024 | Last updated: February 10, 2024

image credit: fizkes/Shutterstock <p><span>In 2019, Credit Suisse became entangled in a corporate espionage scandal. The bank spied on its former executives, raising serious questions about corporate governance. This scandal tarnished the bank’s reputation and led to high-profile resignations.</span></p>

Discover transformative mental shifts to supercharge your problem-solving skills. From embracing uncertainty to the power of daydreaming, prepare to change the way you tackle challenges forever!

image credit: g-stock-studio/shutterstock <p>While short power naps can be refreshing, long or irregular napping during the day can affect nighttime sleep. If you choose to nap, keep it early in the afternoon and under 20 minutes. This can help you get through the day without compromising your nightly sleep cycle.</p>

Embrace Uncertainty

Accept that not all answers are immediately clear. Uncertainty can be a powerful motivator rather than a source of stress. By embracing the unknown, we open ourselves up to a broader range of possibilities and solutions.

image credit: djile/Shutterstock <p><span>Understand when to avoid political discussions, especially if they lead to conflict. Set clear boundaries about what topics are off-limits in your interactions. This respects both parties’ comfort levels.</span></p>

Seek Diverse Perspectives

Look beyond your own experiences. Different perspectives can provide unique insights and spark innovative solutions. Engaging with people from various backgrounds allows you to see problems through a new lens and discover paths you might not have considered.

image credit: Standret/Shutterstock <p><span>No matter how hard you work, it never seems enough, and you aren’t receiving the positive feedback you crave. A pervasive sense of feeling undervalued and unacknowledged significantly contributes to burnout.</span></p>

Simplify the Complex

Break down big problems into smaller, manageable parts. When faced with a complex issue, deconstruct it to understand its fundamental components. This approach makes the problem less daunting and easier to tackle, leading to clearer, more effective solutions.

image credit: Stock 4you/Shutterstock <p><span>Life changes like marriage or having a child can affect your insurance needs. Failing to update your personal information can lead to inadequate coverage. Keeping your insurer informed ensures that your coverage meets your current needs.</span></p>

Adopt a Growth Mindset

Believe in your ability to learn and grow. A growth mindset encourages resilience and the pursuit of knowledge. Challenges are just undiscovered opportunities with potential for personal and professional development.

<p>Social issues are increasingly influencing corporate actions, and companies are making bold moves to address these challenges. From championing gender equality to reducing plastic waste, businesses are not just talking the talk; they’re walking the walk. Discover what other innovative strategies are shaping our corporate landscapes.</p>

Question Assumptions

Challenge the status quo. The barriers to solving a problem are often based on outdated or incorrect assumptions. By questioning the basis of your thinking, you can uncover new paths and innovative solutions.

image credit: Gumbariya/Shutterstock <p>Companies are embracing fair trade practices. They’re sourcing ethically, ensuring fair labor conditions, and supporting sustainable supply chains. This commitment to fairness helps producers and builds a more ethical business model. Fair trade is about respect and responsibility.</p>

Think in Reverse

Start with the desired outcome and work backward. This reverse-engineering approach forces you to think differently and can reveal insights you might have missed when approaching the problem linearly.

image credit: polkadot_photo/Shutterstock <p><span>The creative spark that used to light up your work is gone. You struggle to come up with new ideas and solutions. Your thinking feels stale and uninspired. This lack of creativity is a symptom of mental exhaustion.</span></p>

Embrace Failure as a Teacher

Learn from mistakes and change your perspective. Nobody likes to fail, but each failure provides valuable lessons that can guide future decisions and strategies. Failure isn’t the end but the beginning of understanding.

image credit: ground picture/shutterstock <p>Certain herbal teas, such as chamomile or peppermint, can have a soothing effect and are a great pre-bedtime ritual. These teas are caffeine-free and can be part of your unwinding process. Enjoying a warm cup can be incredibly relaxing.</p>

Harness the Power of Daydreaming

Let your mind wander. Sometimes, the best ideas come when you’re not actively trying to solve a problem. Allowing your mind to drift can lead to creative breakthroughs and unexpected solutions.

image credit: jakub-zak/shutterstock <p><span>Forgive yourself and others to release resentment and anger. Holding onto grudges drains emotional energy and hinders growth. Understand that everyone makes mistakes, including you. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.</span></p>

Practice Empathy

Understand others’ perspectives and needs. By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you can gain insights into the emotional and practical aspects of a problem, leading to more compassionate and effective solutions.

image credit: Kinga/Shutterstock <p>Blogging can be more than a hobby; it can be a highly profitable career. Bloggers earn money through advertising, sponsored content, and digital products. It requires dedication to producing consistent, high-quality content.</p>

Set Clear Goals

Define what success looks like. Clear goals provide direction and focus, making identifying the steps needed to solve a problem easier. They also help measure progress and keep you motivated.

image credit: ASTA-Concept/Shutterstock <p><span>Reduce the time spent in front of screens. Excessive screen time can lead to eye strain, poor sleep, and a sedentary lifestyle. Replace an hour of TV with a walk—a small change for a more active and engaged life.</span></p>

Stay Curious

Ask questions and seek knowledge. A curious mind is always looking for new information and ideas, which can lead to innovative problem-solving strategies. Curiosity is the engine of achievement.

image credit: Monkey-Business-Images/Shutterstock <p><span>Seafood is a delicate choice for a dinner party, especially varieties known for their strong smell, like certain shellfish or aged fish. It’s important to consider that seafood can be a divisive choice, with some guests having strong aversions or allergies. Freshness and mild flavors are key when opting for seafood. Selecting dishes that are universally appealing helps ensure a positive dining experience.</span></p>

Use Analogies

Draw parallels from different areas. Analogies can help clarify complex problems by relating them to something more familiar. This can simplify the problem-solving process and spark creative solutions.

image credit: Stock-Asso/Shutterstock <p><span>Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now a key player in shaping foreign policy decisions. AI algorithms are used to analyze global trends, predict political shifts, and assist in crisis management. This integration of AI brings a new level of sophistication to diplomatic strategies, offering insights beyond human capabilities. As AI continues to evolve, it promises to redefine the landscape of international relations.</span></p>

Focus on the Process, Not Just the Outcome

Enjoy the journey of problem-solving. Focusing too much on the end result can lead to frustration and missed opportunities. By valuing the process, you can learn and adapt as you go, leading to more sustainable solutions.

image credit: Lee-Charlie/Shutterstock <p><span>Protect your investments with stop-loss orders, which automatically sell stocks at a predetermined level. This tool can limit your losses during sudden market drops. A stop-loss order is your safety net in the volatile market. It’s a strategy that offers peace of mind.</span></p>

Prioritize Effectively

Set deadlines for achieving your goals. Know what matters most. Not all aspects of a problem are equally important. By prioritizing the key factors, you can allocate your time and resources more effectively and achieve better results.

image credit: Dusan-Petkovic/Shutterstock <p><span>Working from home means missing out on company-provided perks like free coffee or gym memberships. To compensate, look for local deals or create your own home gym. Consider the value of these perks and find alternative ways to incorporate them into your life. Being creative can help maintain your lifestyle without breaking the bank.</span></p>

Build Resilience

Give yourself time to recover, then bounce back from setbacks. Resilience is crucial for problem-solving, as it allows you to keep going despite challenges and failures. Resilience turns problems into opportunities.

image credit: Evgeny-Atamanenko/Shutterstock <p><span>Whole grains are your friends. Foods like brown rice, barley, and whole wheat provide essential nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, and iron. Not only do they help maintain a healthy gut, but they also keep you fuller for longer. Try incorporating them into your meals in creative ways, like using quinoa in a salad or barley in a hearty soup.</span></p>

Cultivate Patience

Give solutions time to unfold. Sometimes, the best solutions emerge over time, and immediate answers aren’t always the best. Patience allows you to thoroughly explore options and make more considered decisions.

image credit: Fernanda_Reyes/Shutterstock <p><span>Overtraining isn’t just a physical issue; it can take a toll on your mental health as well. Engage in activities that relax and rejuvenate your mind, such as meditation, reading, or spending time in nature. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as physical recovery.</span></p>

Practice Reflection

Don’t overlook the power of self-reflection. Take time to think about what you’ve learned. Reflecting on your experiences and the outcomes of your problem-solving efforts can provide valuable insights and improve future strategies.

image credit: insta_photos/Shutterstock <p><span>Borrowing money to invest can amplify your gains, known as leveraging. If your investments grow, you can repay the loan and keep the surplus as a profit. However, if your investments tank, you’re left with debt and no means to cover it. “Using debt to invest can be like playing financial Russian roulette,” warns a financial blogger.</span></p>

Encourage Collaboration

Work with others to find solutions and share goals. Collaborating with a team can bring in a range of skills and perspectives that enhance the problem-solving process and lead to more effective solutions.

image credit: TimeImage Production/Shutterstock <p><span>Vietnam’s economic reforms have catapulted it into the global spotlight. Its rapidly growing economy, strategic location, and commitment to trade liberalization make it an attractive destination for foreign investment. With a young workforce and a focus on sectors like electronics and textiles, Vietnam is carving out a niche in the global market. Its journey from a war-torn country to a thriving economy is an inspiration to many.</span></p>

Visualize Success

Imagine the desired outcome. Visualization can be a powerful motivator to enhance your performance and guide your actions toward achieving your goals. Focusing on the end result in your mind’s eye can make it a reality.

image credit: fizkes/Shutterstock <p><span>If you’re a frequent traveler, don’t assume your coverage extends internationally. Many plans have limited or no coverage abroad. Understanding your international coverage can save you from exorbitant medical bills overseas.</span></p>

Adapt and Evolve

Be willing to change your approach. The most effective problem-solvers are flexible and open to new methods and ideas. Adapting your strategy in response to new information or challenges can lead to better solutions.

<p><span>Fitness after 50 can be fun and challenging. Discover innovative programs and learn how fitness after 50 can be a thrilling adventure of rejuvenation and discovery! No matter your age, you can transform your body.</span></p>

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Stay optimistic and focused. A positive outlook can keep you motivated and open to new ideas. An optimistic mindset can also make the problem-solving process more enjoyable and less daunting.

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Innovation and inclusivity in action: Vanderbilt’s AI Showcase highlights data-driven solutions for real-world challenges

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Mar 21, 2024, 12:12 PM

Vanderbilt University’s AI Showcase, a recent event hosted by the Data Science Institute, highlighted the remarkable convergence of innovation, inclusivity and practical problem-solving through student-led data science projects. The showcase, structured like a research fair, hosted an array of student presentations, each competing for a part of a $1,700 prize pool. “Students throughout the university are embracing generative AI to breathe life into their ideas. They’re solving difficult problems and actively forging a future that aligns with their values for a world where every voice is heard and valued,” said Charreau Bell, senior data scientist and director of the undergraduate minor in data science.

First-place winner Liv Lockwood, a junior majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in data science, demonstrated values-based innovation with her “ASL Translator.” Lockwood explained, “in a nutshell, my project teaches people how to communicate sentences, phrases and names in American Sign Language quickly and easily by communicating with a friendly chatbot. Not only does the tool teach communication, but also explains the history and importance of Deaf culture and history while teaching you.” Lockwood said her inspiration for the project came in part from her younger brother, through whom she has spent considerable time interacting with the special needs and education community. She also acknowledged the support she received from Jesse Spencer-Smith, her professor for Introduction to Generative AI. Lockwood credits generative AI with helping her realize her vision without significant hard coding skills and reports that she was delighted to help demonstrate that “if time and resources are given to technological developments in the education community and to promoting tools for inclusivity, we can rapidly increase how comprehensive our world is.”

Shalini Thinakaran, also a junior, majoring in computer science and Latin American studies, also minoring in data science, captured second place with “AI for All,” a project that she says “was about centering marginalized identities in AI.” Thinakaran says she set out to “fine-tune a machine learning model using literature that has shaped our understanding of power dynamics in society. Examples include works from people like Angela Davis, James Baldwin and Audre Lorde. By focusing on readings that emphasize the unjust ways in which marginalized communities are affected, we can begin to create technologies that serve  all  of us.”

The event also featured other AI-driven innovations, such as advanced educational tools, medical diagnostic applications, and platforms for emotional well-being. These diverse projects collectively highlighted the broad spectrum of data science applications in practical problem-solving. Third place went to Daniel Han, who graduated in December 2023 with a degree in mathematics and minors in data science, psychology and scientific computing, for his “NarrativeNet AI.” His project applied AI in understanding social networks through narrative data, offering innovative ways to decipher complex social structures. Notably, one winner’s project fulfilled the university’s Immersion Vanderbilt requirement, which ensures that all undergraduates engage in one or more experiential learning activities related to research, internships, study abroad, community and civic engagement, innovation and design, or creative arts.

problem solving skills in leader

The AI Showcase was a testament to the power of combining data science with innovative thinking and a commitment to inclusivity. It not only demonstrated the students’ technical skills learned through data science courses, but also their dedication to using their skills for the greater good, preparing them to be forward-thinking problem-solvers in a technologically evolving world.

The Data Science Institute hosts a variety of events to educate the Vanderbilt community about AI. Join them for an AI Training Day   on Custom Models on March 5 at the VU Student Life Center. This daylong, hybrid event combines comprehensive insights into the development of new AI models with a focus on the practicalities of custom model training to equip researchers, educators and practitioners to navigate the rapidly evolving AI landscape. .

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World Bank Blogs

Four of the biggest problems facing education—and four trends that could make a difference

Eduardo velez bustillo, harry a. patrinos.

Woman writing in a notebook

In 2022, we published, Lessons for the education sector from the COVID-19 pandemic , which was a follow up to,  Four Education Trends that Countries Everywhere Should Know About , which summarized views of education experts around the world on how to handle the most pressing issues facing the education sector then. We focused on neuroscience, the role of the private sector, education technology, inequality, and pedagogy.

Unfortunately, we think the four biggest problems facing education today in developing countries are the same ones we have identified in the last decades .

1. The learning crisis was made worse by COVID-19 school closures

Low quality instruction is a major constraint and prior to COVID-19, the learning poverty rate in low- and middle-income countries was 57% (6 out of 10 children could not read and understand basic texts by age 10). More dramatic is the case of Sub-Saharan Africa with a rate even higher at 86%. Several analyses show that the impact of the pandemic on student learning was significant, leaving students in low- and middle-income countries way behind in mathematics, reading and other subjects.  Some argue that learning poverty may be close to 70% after the pandemic , with a substantial long-term negative effect in future earnings. This generation could lose around $21 trillion in future salaries, with the vulnerable students affected the most.

2. Countries are not paying enough attention to early childhood care and education (ECCE)

At the pre-school level about two-thirds of countries do not have a proper legal framework to provide free and compulsory pre-primary education. According to UNESCO, only a minority of countries, mostly high-income, were making timely progress towards SDG4 benchmarks on early childhood indicators prior to the onset of COVID-19. And remember that ECCE is not only preparation for primary school. It can be the foundation for emotional wellbeing and learning throughout life; one of the best investments a country can make.

3. There is an inadequate supply of high-quality teachers

Low quality teaching is a huge problem and getting worse in many low- and middle-income countries.  In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the percentage of trained teachers fell from 84% in 2000 to 69% in 2019 . In addition, in many countries teachers are formally trained and as such qualified, but do not have the minimum pedagogical training. Globally, teachers for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects are the biggest shortfalls.

4. Decision-makers are not implementing evidence-based or pro-equity policies that guarantee solid foundations

It is difficult to understand the continued focus on non-evidence-based policies when there is so much that we know now about what works. Two factors contribute to this problem. One is the short tenure that top officials have when leading education systems. Examples of countries where ministers last less than one year on average are plentiful. The second and more worrisome deals with the fact that there is little attention given to empirical evidence when designing education policies.

To help improve on these four fronts, we see four supporting trends:

1. Neuroscience should be integrated into education policies

Policies considering neuroscience can help ensure that students get proper attention early to support brain development in the first 2-3 years of life. It can also help ensure that children learn to read at the proper age so that they will be able to acquire foundational skills to learn during the primary education cycle and from there on. Inputs like micronutrients, early child stimulation for gross and fine motor skills, speech and language and playing with other children before the age of three are cost-effective ways to get proper development. Early grade reading, using the pedagogical suggestion by the Early Grade Reading Assessment model, has improved learning outcomes in many low- and middle-income countries. We now have the tools to incorporate these advances into the teaching and learning system with AI , ChatGPT , MOOCs and online tutoring.

2. Reversing learning losses at home and at school

There is a real need to address the remaining and lingering losses due to school closures because of COVID-19.  Most students living in households with incomes under the poverty line in the developing world, roughly the bottom 80% in low-income countries and the bottom 50% in middle-income countries, do not have the minimum conditions to learn at home . These students do not have access to the internet, and, often, their parents or guardians do not have the necessary schooling level or the time to help them in their learning process. Connectivity for poor households is a priority. But learning continuity also requires the presence of an adult as a facilitator—a parent, guardian, instructor, or community worker assisting the student during the learning process while schools are closed or e-learning is used.

To recover from the negative impact of the pandemic, the school system will need to develop at the student level: (i) active and reflective learning; (ii) analytical and applied skills; (iii) strong self-esteem; (iv) attitudes supportive of cooperation and solidarity; and (v) a good knowledge of the curriculum areas. At the teacher (instructor, facilitator, parent) level, the system should aim to develop a new disposition toward the role of teacher as a guide and facilitator. And finally, the system also needs to increase parental involvement in the education of their children and be active part in the solution of the children’s problems. The Escuela Nueva Learning Circles or the Pratham Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) are models that can be used.

3. Use of evidence to improve teaching and learning

We now know more about what works at scale to address the learning crisis. To help countries improve teaching and learning and make teaching an attractive profession, based on available empirical world-wide evidence , we need to improve its status, compensation policies and career progression structures; ensure pre-service education includes a strong practicum component so teachers are well equipped to transition and perform effectively in the classroom; and provide high-quality in-service professional development to ensure they keep teaching in an effective way. We also have the tools to address learning issues cost-effectively. The returns to schooling are high and increasing post-pandemic. But we also have the cost-benefit tools to make good decisions, and these suggest that structured pedagogy, teaching according to learning levels (with and without technology use) are proven effective and cost-effective .

4. The role of the private sector

When properly regulated the private sector can be an effective education provider, and it can help address the specific needs of countries. Most of the pedagogical models that have received international recognition come from the private sector. For example, the recipients of the Yidan Prize on education development are from the non-state sector experiences (Escuela Nueva, BRAC, edX, Pratham, CAMFED and New Education Initiative). In the context of the Artificial Intelligence movement, most of the tools that will revolutionize teaching and learning come from the private sector (i.e., big data, machine learning, electronic pedagogies like OER-Open Educational Resources, MOOCs, etc.). Around the world education technology start-ups are developing AI tools that may have a good potential to help improve quality of education .

After decades asking the same questions on how to improve the education systems of countries, we, finally, are finding answers that are very promising.  Governments need to be aware of this fact.

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Eduardo Velez Bustillo's picture

Consultant, Education Sector, World Bank

Harry A. Patrinos

Senior Adviser, Education

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