Some leadership challenges are nothing more than a little pothole in the road.
Others are more like a giant speed-bump.
But every now and then you will face something far greater; you will face a challenge that can only be described as an enormous brick wall completely blocking your path.
And when that happens, you need to know where to look for the solution.
And the first step to solving an unsolvable leadership challenge is knowing which bucket to dip into.
Years ago I inherited the task of trimming $400,000 out of a $3,000,000 budget.
The first $200,000 had been relatively painless. But now the job needed deep cuts; I needed to trim another $200,000, and I had run out of ideas. I was stumped.
But a leadership mentor of mine asked me the question that changed everything.
“Scott, what bucket are you looking for your solution in?”
I pressed him to explain.
“Well, it seems to me you’re looking for answers in your ‘easy fix’ bucket. You’ve already emptied that one. That’s how you trimmed the first $200,000. But to finish this job, you need to learn about 3 different buckets.”
The Radical Innovation Bucket
“Supposing I were to tell you that you had to run the entire organization next year with only $1,000,000,” he continued. “What would you do? I’ll tell you exactly what you’d do. You would figure out a way to run the organization for $1,000,000. But you would figure it out using radical innovation.”
He was right.
The “easy fix” bucket doesn’t solve unsolvable problems. You need utterly new approaches.
Those are found in the radical innovation bucket.
The Uncommon Courage Bucket
“I’ll bet you faced little push-back with your first round of cuts,” he went on. “The next round will face serious opposition. That’s when you need uncommon courage.”
Unsolvable problems are always faced with that kind of bravery.
The Emotional Intelligence Bucket
“When you start implementing your radical solution, you need to find a way to navigate some tricky relational waters,” he concluded. “People are emotionally invested in their work. Keep your emotional wits about you at all times.”
The higher the stakes, the greater the need for emotional intelligence.
So when you next need a solution for an unsolvable problem, start by looking closely at the kinds of solutions you’re bringing to the table.
If the problem is still overwhelming, it could be because you’ve been looking in the wrong bucket.