On the Hill? Or in the Water?

Dangers in an African River

Yesterday I heard an intriguing illustration.  A pastor had visited Africa and during his stay he visited a river.  He sat high above the river on a hill overlooking the river and the plain beyond.  He saw wild crocodiles, elephants, impala, and even lions.  Now I’m not sure that he actually saw all of those beasts at the same time but nevertheless it was a mouth-opening, frightening, awe-inspiring experience.  Now he was using it to make a point in his sermon, but it got me thinking about problem-solving (not during the sermon of course).

There are two kinds of problem-solving leaders:

  • The command and control type where they either solve the problem or dictate how it will be solved.
  • The collaborative type – where everyone is engaged to solve the problem.  Michael Stallard distinguishes this as getting buy-in vs. co-creating.

I have seen the inside of a lot of organizations and I can tell you that the command and control structure is becoming far less effective than it was 50 years ago – although context certainly needs to play a role.

So what kind of problem-solving leader are you?  Do you sit on top of the hill while your people deal with the muck and difficulties down by the river?  It’s safe up there – or at least it seems safe.

Or do you go down and get in the water?  It’s dangerous.  It’s muddy.  It’s messy.  There are problems you may not want to deal with.  You don’t know for sure what is going to happen.  But that’s where the magic of collaborative problem-solving takes place: down by the river where all of the real issues are addressed and everyone is engaged to tackle challenging problems…together.

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