Problem & Context, even over Solution

Joel Gascoigne, Buffer‘s CEO, penned a really thoughtful piece on his ideal leadership style:

How I try to lead when making changes that affect people

Joel builds on Ben Horowitz’s description of the CEO as the owner of the information architecture in the company.

He captures the crux of the CEO’s challenges as a leader in this quote:

I naturally end up with a unique picture of the whole company, since I’m learning insights from all the different teams and areas. I see patterns across multiple areas, and this leads me to ideas for making changes that could make the whole company more effective.

That’s where the danger comes. I’m both in one of the best positions to notice and implement changes to how we work, and also I’m far removed enough that I might be missing some context about how my ideas for changes could have negative implications.

He then outlines his approach to dealing with this challenge:

  1. I try to have the communication architecture to put me in the best position to understand a lot of the context and to draw patterns between challenges in different areas.
  2. I aim to notice the challenges arising in areas, and spend time to reflect on them in a way that others might not have the viewpoint or time to do so.
  3. Once I start to find myself moving towards a solution for challenges, I stop myself.
  4. I then speak with people who will be affected by any potential changes to solve the challenge I’ve found.
  5. When I speak with people, I try to share all the context, without a solution.
  6. Sometimes I may have a hint of a solution in my mind, however I try to be fully open to a different solution being the optimal one, which I can only learn based on speaking with people.
  7. The goal and result of this method is that often I’m not even the one who comes up with solutions, and the changes we make are more fully embraced.

Steps 1 and 2 are the hallmarks of a good leader, but it’s in step 3 where great leaders get separated from the good. It takes tremendous discipline to stop yourself when you think you know the answer. And rather than issue an edict to execute your solution, loop in the affected people, describe the problem that you’re seeing and the big-picture context that they may be missing, and let them come up with the solution themselves.


Problem & Context, even over Solution

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