Most of the time we talk about the importance of things like problem solving and crisis management. We celebrate the traits of a leader who can get us through catastrophe. These are exciting to talk about – big battles and war stories.
It’s not as dramatic to talk about the problem that never materialized because the director knew how to avoid it entirely. We don’t say, “That guy sure knows how to spot a bad deal.” It’s a type of business aikido that’s a little difficult to comprehend. It’s typically unseen, not recorded, hard to recognize, and definitely not exciting.
Marshall Goldsmith talks about this idea in his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. That book made me realize how important and also how unrecognized this skill was.
What’s the best way to not get punched in the face? Don’t be there. It’s not learning to defend a punch, it’s learning to avoid the fight entirely.
We are not talking about ignorantly avoiding existing problems that are already on your doorstep, this is only for avoiding potential problems that are on the horizon before they arrive / materialize in your world.
The skill of avoiding problems comes from preparation, repetition, knowing the field and then experience takes it the rest of the way. It’s difficult to describe, because you already have to already know or at least have a sense of what you are looking for.
Someone who is great at their job, they can see things shaping before the problems fully materialize. They calculate options that are never used to find the best way. They avoid issues entirely – no one knows the issues were even there. It’s like a reverse opportunity radar.
Some people wait for problems to show up on their doorstep, others look for problems to unearth and address. The next level operator scans the field for potential problems and finds the best available path that avoids the issues without incident.
There’s not a lot of rewards or heroism in avoiding problems. ‘Hey boss, look at this big problem I avoided!’ No one cares, get back to work. Learn this skill and people will sometimes see you as ‘lucky’ or you are always on the ‘easy project’. That’s fine. As Jim Rohn said, “Results is the name of the game.”