Problem Solvers Make Great Leaders

Math Problem on White BoardBeing a problem solver can help you stand out as a leader. Finding things that aren’t going well and coming up with ways to fix them can be a true differentiator.

Today’s post is by Suzanne Paling, author of The Sales Leader’s Problem Solver (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

Articles on the subject of leadership run the gamut, from the four essential qualities to the 30+ characteristics. Internet searches on the word leader offer up myriad choices including: integrity, passion, patience, delegation, clarity, creativity and fearlessness – valid and important traits all.

To my surprise, one trait seldom gets mentioned – problem solving. Think about it. Acknowledging and effectively dealing with an issue (especially if it’s caused difficulties for a prolonged period of time) showcases leadership abilities.

In my new book The Sales Leader’s Problem Solver; I take the reader through the process of solving 15 of the most common sales force conundrums. At the end of every chapter, I talk about how the act of solving a dilemma enhances the person’s leadership credentials.

While the problems featured in the book are sales specific, the process for solving a problem has applications for leaders in different departments throughout the company. I offer the following suggestions:

Gather Data

Take the time to speak with others in your organization about the issue. Once you have a better understanding of the issue, get away from anecdotal information. Seek out unbiased facts and figures.

Most of us tend to read and rely on a regular group of reports. Step out of your comfort zone. Ask people in different departments about their favorite reports. CFOs are often great sources of new information. Assemble data that backs up, shows the extent of; or reinforce people’s claims about the problem.

Solve It

Forget company politics. Pretend no one could tell you “no.” Be bold. Think it through. How would you go about solving this problem? What changes would need to be made? Simply put, if you had the authority to do so, how would you take care of this difficulty?

Put it in Writing

Take all the information you’ve assembled and create an easy-to-read report. Use charts and graphs to showcase any relevant factual data. Make your case.

People often balk at this, citing past examples of suggesting changes or solutions and being turned down. Don’t let that deter you. Stand your ground. Creating a document shows commitment and courage.

Present it to Your Supervisor

While meeting, Skyping or speaking on the phone with your boss, calmly mention the report you’ve put together. Say something like, “I’ve been giving some thought to the ongoing dilemma with the lack of prospecting for new business on the part of some sales reps. I’ll be sending you a memo with some suggestions for dealing with the issue. When you’ve had a chance to look it over, I’d like to discuss it with you and hear your thoughts.”

That’s it. Unless you get asked questions, move on to the next item on the agenda. Most direct supervisors will curious about what you’ve written. Often, sales leaders express surprise at how quickly their boss reads the report and gets back to them.

Be Open to Compromise

Your direct supervisor sees problems from a different vantage point than yours. A level or two removed from those you manage, she might have a different perspective on the situation. Don’t get so attached to the information you put in the report that you can’t listen to her opinions. No doubt, she’ll have a good idea or two as well.

Agree on a Solution

Come together on a solution for the problem that both you and your boss can agree on. Discuss how best to share this information with appropriate parties.

Speaking to the Rep Involved

Approach the first meeting with the idea of doing a lot of listening. Make no attempt to solve the problem during that initial conversation. Ask open-ended questions and hear what the person has to say. Show them the information that you’ve put together and encourage them to look it over for a day or two.

During subsequent meetings, offer the rep your full support. Provide the time and resources necessary for them to show improvement. But put a timeline on solving the problem. Let them know they have to be performing at a certain level by a certain date or you will have to put them on probation.

Back Track

Once you’ve begun the process of solving the problem, think about how it got started in the first place. What can be done going forward to mitigate the possibility of it reoccurring? Make adjustments where necessary to hiring, orientation, and training. Update any policy and procedure manuals to reflect any changes.


Leaders don’t bring problems to their direct supervisors, they bring solutions. Whether an individual runs a big company with hundreds of employees or an entry level employee gets put in charge of a small one-off project for the first time – successfully solving a problem represents a career enhancing opportunity.

Sales Leaders Problem SolverSuzanne Paling of Sales Management Services provides sales management advice and coaching to company and sales leaders seeking to increase revenue by improving their sales organization’s performance. Her latest book, The Sales Leader’s Problem Solver (CLICK HERE to get your copy) and Winner of the 2016 USA Book News Awards Business: Sales category, offers solutions for 15 common sales management dilemmas.

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Photo: Solution of Grade 9th Math problem by arjin j

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