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Don’t get stuck with one solution to a problem

From June 1990 till June 2000, I served as the director of the Institute for Education and Training for Business in Marietta College’s McDonough Center for Leadership and Business. In March of 1996, the admiral’s staff of the United States Coast Guard requested a presentation on Leaders of the 21st Century. I held conference calls with Coast Guard staff to assess details of the development needs of the staff at headquarters. I learned they wanted to know how to manage planned and unplanned change and enhance personal leadership behaviors

On May 1, 1996 at about 5 p.m., I boarded a small plane at the Mid Ohio Valley Airport and flew to Washington, D.C. I arrived a couple of hours later and caught a cab to the Doubletree Hotel and unpacked.

On the morning of May 2, for two hours I spoke to about 50 middle and senior managers of the United States Coast Guard. I had prepared a 16-page white paper on what I believed to be the desired behaviors of the leaders in the coming century. My content focused on The Enabler of Change including my change model but also addressed The Respectful Communicator, The Developer of People and Teams, and the Manager of Conflict. My illustrative stories were well received with a great deal of positive interaction.

Following my presentation, I had the honor of partaking of the Admirals Mess with the top half dozen leaders of the Coast Guard. I greatly enjoyed the interaction as we further delved into how my modes of leadership applied to specific situations with which they struggled.

I arrived back in my office the next day with good reports for my staff. Shortly afterwards, my assistant director, Cathy Brown, stepped into my office with a copy of the white paper in her hand. She said, “Glenn I think you have the outline for a book here. Maybe we should send it to a publisher.” I agreed and encouraged her to do so. Two out of the four publishers we sent it to responded and Prentice Hall published it in October of 1998. This book was my sixth one and the first one other than my dissertation I wrote as the only author. I requested and received the rights to the book, updated it, and republished it under RayCom Learning in 2006.

It is interesting how in this case preparation for one event led to a product for many others. Leaders often find that solutions created for one problem can be a fix for future needs. Documenting successes can help us understand the potential diversity of unique and valuable applications. There is an interaction effect between past solutions and future issues. Sometimes we need to start problem solving with a blank page. Other times we can identify our solution history and by taking parts of several create the best outcome. Most leaders find problem solving exciting and stimulating. Don’t get stuck with only one way to address every problem.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, “Tons of Stone Above My Head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons,” visit his website, raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

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