I discovered something interesting recently: how I use drain cleaner is a metaphor for my leadership…and life.
My sink was clogged last year, so I used some drain cleaner to clear it up. While reading the instructions, I noticed that it recommended using it periodically to address “small clogs and buildup.” That seemed reasonable and I did do just that for a few months.
For four months, I had perfectly flowing water…until I forgot about the periodic checkups. Two months went by, then three, and before long, I was back in crisis mode. The drain backed up again. D’oh!
What’s interesting to me now is that I never allowed the progression of buildup to bother me. I never reacted when it first started to build up just a little.
When I was regularly addressing the small clogs and buildups, I was always amazed at how freely the water flowed afterwards. Even one month of buildup, when removed, was noticeable, even if it wasn’t yet an inconvenience or a major problem.
The same goes for leadership. Leaders must always address problems before they become crises.
What small problems look like
Perhaps you have a salesperson who regularly used to make 15-20 sales each week, when his quota is only 10. But for the past two weeks he only made 12. He is still hitting his quota, so what’s the big deal, right?
What’s the big deal? That something is wrong! And it’s your job to find out.
Or perhaps your assistant used to always be at the office 30 minutes early and have everything ready. Now he arrives barely on time and is rushed. He’s not late, but a small clog is developing that could become a crisis if not addressed.
4 reasons we don’t address small problems
- Fear of confrontation.
- Fear of overreacting.
- Fear of micromanaging.
- Fear of being wrong.
We avoid doing the right thing out of fear. We allow small problems to escalate into crises because of fear. We allow other people to suffer in silence because of fear.
And this kind of fear comes from only one place…
But not you. You will address the small problems head on. You will not let fear control you or ignore the obvious.
Like the drain cleaner when used regularly, you will remove small obstacles with ease. Here’s how:
6 ways to approach small problems
- Treat them seriously.
- Seek to understand. Ask what is going on and genuinely listen to the answer. Try to relate.
- Prepare for a rock-your-world answer. There might be something serious going on (death in the family, divorce, etc.). Be prepared mentally.
- Focus on problem-solving. Get the person help if needed. Focus on helping the person first, and work second.
- Focus on the future, not the past. There is no need to beat someone up over a mistake. Keep your focus on getting him or her on track, not on reliving what went wrong.
- ___________________. What would you add to this list?
Have you ever allowed a small problem to become a crisis? What was the result?