Three Questions that Solve Your Biggest Leadership Challenges

AdVance Leadership » Three Questions that Solve Your Biggest Leadership Challenges

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #013. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll discover 3 questions that will help you lead through the root issues that are causing problems in your team.

1 Insight

For many leaders, irritating issues eat away at much of their time and attention. To get to the root of these reoccurrences, leaders will look anywhere but at their own leadership. If leaders would continually upgrade their leadership in 7 areas, they would be able to eliminate most business problems.

As a leader, you experience copious challenges. Dorothy and I (Garland) recently spoke with a group of leaders for a day-long training. I said to the team, “Leadership is hard.” A collective groan and affirmation echoed through the room.

When a challenge arises, it’s natural to immediately jump into “fix-it mode.” Your ability to fix problems quickly and effectively is one of the qualities that got you promoted into a leadership position.

But as you grow in leadership, that ability can backfire. You spend time working “in the business instead of on it.” This phrase, coined by Michael Gerber, describes leaders who spend their time dealing with small problems instead of Root Issues.

Presenting Problems Versus Root Issues

Last summer, we were driving our 2015 Chevy Traverse up the hill to our house when it started shaking like an earthquake. I took it to a shop to have the wheels aligned. But when we took the car home, it still shook.

I took it to our mechanic again to look at the engine mount. Sure enough, the engine mount was cracked and needed replacing. But when we took the car home, it still shook.

I went back to the mechanic. He speculated that the shaking was due to old transmission fluid. He flushed and replaced the old fluid. But when we took the car home, it still shook.

It got even worse. The car’s shaking turned into a refusal to move forward, stranding our oldest son in the middle of the road.

Finally, I called around and talked to other mechanics. I explained the Presenting Problems: shaking and failure to move forward. I would ask each mechanic if they had ever seen these problems. Often they would guess what the issue could be. But I would ask them again: “Have you ever seen this before?” If they said that they had not dealt with this specific problem, I thanked them for their time and called another mechanic.

Eventually, I got in contact with a mechanic who said that he had seen the problems — and fixed it — dozens of times. He explained that 2015 Chevy Traverses commonly experience these Presenting Problems. But the Root Issue is the Torque Converter. He told me exactly what was wrong, the process for fixing it, and when they could take it.

Leadership, Problems, and Issues

We wasted hundreds of dollars trying to fix the Presenting Problem of shaking rather than getting to the Root Issue that caused the shaking. As a leader, you probably do the same. Your team points out problems. You put your head down and get to work, trying to fix those problems as quickly as possible.

But the reality is that you’re not fixing much because you’re addressing the Presenting Problems rather than the Root Issues. If you spend all your time fixing symptoms and not getting to the root, you will repeat the same problems over and over.

We’ve found that there are three questions leaders can ask to quickly understand Root Issues and how they need to lead through them.

Question 1: What are the Presenting Problems that are currently causing pain in our business?

You should not ignore the Presenting Problems that the business is experiencing. These symptoms could include things like:

  • Increased customer cancellations
  • High employee disengagement
  • Failing to meet deadlines
  • Low employee retention
  • Diminished profitability
  • Low productivity
  • Lagging sales

Make a list of all the Presenting Problems that you’re currently experiencing. You might not be able to fix all these symptoms at the same time. But you can’t deal with the problems unless you know what they are. And you can’t truly know what they are if you can’t name them.

Question 2: What type of leadership issue(s) is this?

We have good news and bad news for you: every problem in your business starts with your leadership. You must take responsibility for the problems and the solutions. Even if you didn’t cause the problems, you still take ownership for fixing them.

Question #2 can overwhelm you without a framework. We’ve found that 95% of organizational challenges come down to 7 leadership issues:

  1. Character – a leader isn’t willing to take responsibility or make the hard decisions to move their team forward.
  2. Competence – a leader hasn’t developed the skills that their team and organization need from them.
  3. Capacity – a leader is so busy that they don’t have the time, energy, and attention to guide their team well.
  4. Clarity – a leader hasn’t helped everyone on their team get clear on the highest priorities and what each person’s role is in accomplishing those priorities.
  5. Community – a leader hasn’t built trust with every member of their team and created a collaborative environment.
  6. Culture – a leader has not established values that drive the expected behaviors, attitudes, habits, and processes.
  7. Consistency – a leader isn’t consistent with their vision, attitudes, and expectations.

When you ask this second question — what type of leadership issue(s) is this? — you will usually discover one or two Root Issues that are causing the Presenting Problems. For example, high employee disengagement might indicate Clarity and Community issues. You haven’t shown people what’s most important and helped everyone build trust with each other.

Question 3: How do I need to upgrade my leadership to deal with this issue(s)?

Leadership is never easy. But answering this question makes it easier. Once you know the type of leadership issue(s), you discover how to upgrade your leadership.

If you realize that you have a Capacity issue, then you need to upgrade your leadership in the realm of Capacity. This will lead you to ask questions like:

  • How can I increase my energy to better lead the team?
  • How do I better leverage and utilize the people on my team?
  • Have I allocated my time to focus on the highest priorities of my team?
  • Am I regularly giving undivided attention to the most important people?


These three questions help you stop dealing with Presenting Problems and focus, instead, on Root Issues in your leadership.

1 Action

Take 10 minutes this week to ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What are the Presenting Problems that are currently causing pain in our business?
  2. What type of leadership issue(s) is this?
  3. How do I need to upgrade my leadership to deal with this problem?


Want to help your company unleash its leaders?

  1. Get your team to subscribe to the Friday411 newsletter.
  2. Get your copy of Gettin' (un)Busy, named by Forbes as “one of the books everyone on your team should read.”
  3. Email Garland to train your company’s leaders. We will equip them with 7 traits that solve 95% of their leadership challenges.
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