Leaders must rely on their problem-solving skills

The barn is the hub of activity for any farm. I spent my share of time there playing with the cats. Twice a day at milking time they all gathered around the feet of the cows and begged for some milk, which they always got. The young ones soon learned to sit although impatiently until I directed a spray of warm milk into their waiting mouths. Sometimes the stream was so strong it rolled them. They soon regained their feet for a second spray.

About mid spring, I noticed when the mother cat stopped coming to her daily feeding of fresh milk. I knew a nest of soft, helpless kittens waiting for my cuddle were hidden somewhere in the barn. Each year the location was different but I always found them. This time, I looked in all of the usual places with no luck. I decided to sit quietly in the barn loft to locate the birthplace.

Five minutes passed and the silence flowed while dust danced through a stream of light. Ten minutes click by and still not a sound can be heard other than a distant cow bellowing her displeasure of the presence of my dog, Lucky. Fifteen minutes and I was almost ready to seek another likely nest spot when I hear a faint meow. I cocked my ear toward the sound and another stronger meow followed directing me to a tunnel under a stack of hay bales. My younger brother, Jack, and I had made these tunnels while playing army in the middle of the winter. The mother cat adopted a tunnel as a perfect birthplace for her litter.

I counted the kittens and noted their coloring. Their eyes are not even open yet. I ran to the house to announce the new litter to Jack, Mom, Sylvia, and Grandmother. They acknowledged my find with interest but Jack was the most excited. He followed me with a gallop through the barn, up the stairs, and back to the nest site. Now, the mother cat was with her kittens. Her first instinct was to growl a warning at me but after a couple of smells of my finger recognized me as the giver of milk and welcomed a rub or two down her back.

Those were golden days when my most pressing priority was a new litter of kittens. Yet, even then, I had a problem-solving plan to break the case of the missing litter. First, I reviewed my experience with this problem and looked in every place the cat had chosen in past years. When that approach bore no fruit, I brainstormed all the possible places a litter could be. I prioritized the possibilities and chose the barn loft. Then, I put the nest identification plan in place, 15 minutes of almost breathless silence.

One of the most important responsibilities of leaders is problem solving. I think the process I used to find kittens can be helpful for leaders. First, review past experience with the problem and research appropriate data. With relevant data, brainstorm options, prioritize the best options, and devise a test of the best option. You may have to test several options, but this systematic approach to problem solving can save time and avoid knee-jerk reactions.

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, www.raycomlearning.com or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

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