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The unusual tactic great leaders use to solve problems

By April 9, 2015 No Comments

By Ben Sands – for additional insights, tools, and leadership resources, click here

It was 6 o’clock in the morning and, as I stood inside the sanctuary of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I knew I should have been feeling more grateful.

No crowds, no noise, just the soft patter of a few lucky people who, like me, had a host (in my case, the pastor of a local Roman church) who could arrange this special early morning access.

And yet, despite the serenity and beauty of my surroundings…I was feeling angry.

The reason?

A gigantic crystal cross standing prominently in the entry of the ancient church.

The sculpture, a Swarovski, was beautiful. Standing over ten feet tall and six feet wide, the crystal reflected the early morning sun in every direction.

But when my host, Father Ken, shared that the cross had been commissioned by the Vatican at a cost of $1M, I became livid.

A million dollars?!?!

It seemed to me that, given the multitude of impoverished people in the world, the decision to spend that kind of money on a piece of art, regardless of its beauty, was irresponsible.

Father Ken could tell that something was wrong and asked me about it.

When I shared with him what was bothering me he gave me a knowing smile and said compassionately:

“Ben, the problems of this world won’t be solved with more money. What the world needs is more faith…more love…more of a focus on others and less on ourselves.”

THE MINDSET OF SUCCESSFUL LEADERS

The most successful leaders, it seems, think much the same way.

Take, for example, Bob Chapman, the CEO of the global engineering firm, Barry-Wehmiller.

Simon Sinek, the author of Leader’s Eat Last, was sharing Chapman’s story on Lewis Howe’s excellent podcast: The School of Greatness.

According to Sinek, during the 2008 recession Barry-Wehmiller lost 30% of its orders and the company had to cut costs in order to stay in business.

One of the obvious strategic options was to start laying people off, but Chapman refused. Instead, he mandated that every employee in the company, himself included, take four weeks of unpaid vacation to cut the company’s overhead to a sustainable level.

In a letter to his employees explaining the decision, Chapman said that he believed it better that they “all suffer a little, as opposed to some suffering a lot.”

In other words, they had to focus more on others and less on themselves.

The company survived the downturn and have resumed a pattern of consistent double-digit growth and, as Sinek shared, “it is now impossible to steal their employees.”

DO YOU NEED TO CHANGE YOUR MINDSET?

While the world is no longer threatened by global recession, one look at the newspaper headlines makes it clear that the world continues to face enormous challenges.

And I suspect that you’re probably facing a few big ones yourself.

As you put on your problem-solving “hat,” consider what would happen if you, like Chapman, decided to change your mindset.

To shift your focus from what do I need? to what can I give?

Ten years ago, I had an experience that forever ingrained how powerful this mindset shift can be.

At the time I was working as a sales executive for a large consulting company. The job required lots of travel and it felt like I was constantly on the road. The travel was exciting at first but, as any experienced business traveler can relate, it quickly got old.

One night, about nine months into the job, I was in a cab by myself driving from JFK airport to a hotel in New York City. It was late, I was hungry and tired, and I was feeling both very lonely and very sorry for myself.

I decided, right there in the cab, that it was time to quit.

But as I began to draft my resignation letter in my mind, I suddenly remembered that giant crystal cross and it’s message: the solution is…focus more on others and less on yourself.

And that got me thinking.

Who has it worse than I do right now?

Immediately, a name popped into my head: Granny.

At the time, my grandmother was nearly 90 years old and living by herself in a retirement community in Rhode Island. She was a beautiful person – deeply loving and kind – but over the years I had done a poor job of staying in touch.

It dawned on me that, as lonely as I was feeling, Granny was probably feeling even more isolated.

And so I decided to call her, right then and there, from the back of the cab at 8:30 on a Wednesday night.

As soon as she said “Hello” my mood started to change and, 30 minutes later as I wished her “good night,” my own energy reserves had been fully recharged.

I felt like a new man.

My worries were gone and a new tradition was begun. I called my grandmother every week, on Wednesday night, until she passed away five years later.

It quickly became one of the most important meetings on my calendar.

What’s more, I started to view my time in taxi cabs and airports as a special opportunity I had been given to call, and support, other friends who needed my help.

Needless to say, I didn’t quit my job. In fact, I got a lot better at it.

The quarter after starting my weekly calls I reached the “President’s Circle” (a designation awarded to top sales executives in the company) for the first time.

This wasn’t a coincidence. My sales territory hadn’t changed, nor had my approach. The only thing that was different was my mindset.

I stopped worrying about my problems and started focusing explicitly on helping my clients and customers solve theirs.

A NEW APPROACH TO PROBLEM SOLVING

We have been given extraordinary gifts – natural intelligence, drive and access to resources, among others.

And these gifts afford us opportunities, personal and professional, that billions of people are desperate to have.

Naturally, we spend lots and lots of time thinking about how we can use our gifts to solve our personal problems – to make more money, to increase our job security, to create more happiness and joy in our lives, among others.

But, in doing so, we may be missing a more effective, innovative and satisfying way to solve our problems: by focusing less on ourselves and more on others.

This week, give it a try.

Like Bob Chapman, and countless other highly successful leaders, consider how you could “put others first” in such a way that you solve both their problems…and your own.

Take Action: Consider a challenge you are facing at work or home. What would happen if you decided to put the needs of someone else before your own?

Try it and let me know how it goes in the comments below.

Ben Sands

Author Ben Sands

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