Solving a simple problem? You may have overlooked the real issue

Recently, I realized my grass was about to get away from me. So I pulled out my mower, checked the oil, and filled it with gas. I pumped the gas primer and inserted my ear plugs. When I tugged on the string to engage the mower, it only moved about six inches. Again and again, I pulled with no luck.

I guessed the string was bound on the reel. Therefore, I sought the appropriate sized socket set and began removing the top plastic cover. With the top cover removed, I could not see the string reel yet. Five more bolts were between my objective and me. Soon, off came the metal frame. When I had the reel in my hand, I found it was not bound and moved freely.

This information led me to believe the crankshaft was frozen since the exposed mechanism still would not move more than two or three inches. As you can imagine, my possibilities were diminishing and becoming more negative with each bit of data. I became convinced that a new mower was in my future, an option I dearly hoped to avoid.

The last bolt that would finish my problem-solving endeavor was larger than any socket in my box. I had to buy a new socket or give the mower up as a loss. I could spend money on a repairman but they are hard to find and I may be throwing good money after bad.

I talked to a man who mows yards for a living and he suggested I look under the mower to make sure no obstruction was blocking the blades and to check the oil. I knew the oil was OK and I knew the mower was working fine when I put it away in November. I had little confidence in his approach.

Several days later as a last resort, I tipped up the mower and was shocked to see that grass had solidified under the carriage to the consistency of concrete. With a little prying, I broke it into pieces and freed the blade.

To be honest, I felt a little foolish with my incompetent trouble-shooting process. However, I was glad I talked to an expert and finally followed his advice. My failure resulted from how I framed the problem. In my mind the issue was the string is bound. The expert understood that the issue was that the blade wouldn’t move. He was right.

Good leaders use a trouble-shooting structure that overviews the entire process and then they dig into the elements that the evidence prescribes. I defined my problem solving with a solution (the string is bound) and failed to review the entire process. Even after my hypothesis was not supported, I quickly jumped to another solution. My approach was to solve a simple problem but it turned into hours of unnecessary work and frustration.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership usually appears each Wednesday on the Business page.