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12 October 2021

How to Stop Solving Problems and Start Creating Possibilities

Written by
Kathrin O'Sullivan

What if leadership is less about solving problems and more about opening new possibilities? 

As leaders, we are expected to make progress fast and constantly optimize for better outcomes. This is useful when things can be predicted and controlled. When we get into more ambiguous territory, however, relying on a “fix it fast” strategy can come at a high cost. It can waste a lot of energy and keep us trapped.

This “fix it fast” impulse has come up for me in my own life especially in high stakes situations like moving to different countries, changing jobs, or leaving relationships. Here is the pattern:  

I notice that something feels off that I long to be different. I know that I want to make a change, but I’m scared because I have no clue what the consequences might be. My brain starts ringing alarm bells and I torture myself over the right decision. My problem-solving mindset kicks into high gear. I do lots of scenario planning, list pros and cons, agonize over ifs and buts. When it gets too confusing, I distract myself so I don’t have to feel the anxiety that impending change brings up.  Or I fool myself into thinking that where I am is perfectly fine, and I don’t need to make a change at all.

In doing all this, I keep myself trapped.

The fear of making a move when I can’t predict or control the outcome can be paralyzing. This may often be happening on a less conscious level, but it’s keeping me stuck in a situation that no longer serves me.

I often see a similar pattern in my coaching clients, and it’s probably somewhat familiar to you, too. As smart as it may be, our problem-solving mindset can be counterproductive because it can make us blind to other possibilities that are trying to emerge.  Here is a different way:

  1. Feel the longing

This may strike you as counterintuitive, but it’s a game changer: try to accept the current situation and let yourself feel the longing for what’s missing. For example, when something keeps feeling off in your current team or job, rather than trying to figure out how to pivot, give yourself some space to feel what’s actually lacking, and what you really wish for. Shift from what your head is thinking to what your heart is feeling.

Your head would probably tell you to find a new role. Your heart may reveal a different perspective. Maybe what you’re really longing for is a deeper connection to your purpose or the people around you. Maybe it’s more creativity, or increased ownership. This is your inner wisdom, and it’s teaching you what you really want and need, so you don’t repeat old patterns in new situations.

2. Remember you have more choices than you think

When we have difficult decisions to make, it’s easy to forget that the fork in the road we have come to is more than a difficult decision point. It’s inviting us into a new adventure. So rather than worrying about taking the wrong path or obsessing about what to do next, celebrate that you have options to shape an exciting future. Notice the shift in energy from this perspective. Who do you want to be next? How do you want to show up? What do you want to create? There are so many empowering choices that can be made. Rather than agonizing about what you may lose, paint a picture of what could be possible.

3. Adopt an explorer mindset

Explorers make do with what they have in the moment, while courageously following the direction they want to move into. It’s not always the most linear path, but a fulfilling journey of discovery that will take you closer to the place you long for. The explorer mindset gives you the freedom to try the things that will get you unstuck. So in the case of being no longer satisfied with your job, the explorer will tell you to notice what’s not working and why, and what small steps you could take to move in the direction you want to go in. These steps will be clarifying and help you move forward without the overwhelming pressure of having to figure out the perfect plan.

So – next time you find yourself in limbo without knowing what to do next, do not waste valuable time and energy treating it as an issue that needs a quick fix. This will most likely keep you stuck or solving the wrong problem. Instead, pay attention to what happens right when you feel the longing for a change. Let the answers come from your heart and inner wisdom. Remember that you have more choices than you think and can take clarifying steps that will lead you to new possibilities. Claim your power as the leader who flows with life rather than pushes against it. What have you got to lose?

Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash

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