How to Melt Problems

Once, a woman in a corporation asked to talk to me privately. She was the director of marketing. She spoke for a few moments and then tears filled her eyes. She indicated that her predecessor had hired a small army of MBA’s. Since her industry was considered very stodgy, and MBA’s normally avoid it, her predecessor’s accomplishment in this hiring was considered an impressive victory. He received many accolades.

After this man left, she made a discovery. He had succeeded in hiring the MBA’s by promising them things that no one could possibly deliver. The MBA’s were discovering the lie and now they were all starting to leave. In fact, just moments before she had received a message informing her that still another MBA had announced he was leaving. She went on to explain that she was now worried that people would see their departures as her failure–and not as an error that she had inherited from her predecessor. Yet there was virtually no way to maintain her integrity and keep the MBA’s. It was an impossible problem and she was certain she was doomed to failure. She went on and on about the difficulty, about how frustrated and beaten she felt.

Finally I asked her what result she wanted to create. She told me she wanted to keep the MBA’s but she was positive there was no way to do it. I told her I did not believe that this was really the result she wanted to create. She looked puzzled. I asked, “Why are you here? What difference do you want to make in this company?” Her eyes lit up. “Oh, I have a clear mission. I want to change the entire culture of this company. I want to turn it into a customer-centered corporation.”

I asked her how she planned to do that and she described a thoughtful and potentially workable strategy. I asked if she thought the MBA’s were essential to her strategy. She told me they were. I challenged her again.

“It sounds to me like any bright and committed person could successfully carry out the strategic steps you have outlined. What value is added by having an MBA?”

She pondered this for a moment and her countenance began to change. As she became more positive she returned to her problem of credibility. “Won’t I lose support if people see me as unable to keep the MBA’s?”

“Possibly,” I answered, “but is support necessary for you to create the result you want?”

“Yes.”

“How can you generate support for your purpose?”

“Well, I could make my purpose clear to everyone. In every conversation I could talk about the objective to change the culture. I could share the strategy and say that one thing we learned is that the MBA’s do not fit our culture, nor are they necessary to our strategy. My people already sense this and I think other people do as well.”

As she spoke, her confidence began to grow. Our conversation went on for another half hour. When we parted, she looked like a different woman. She was clear on her purpose. She had a strategy. Her fears were gone and she was ready to take action.

I think we are all like this woman. While we are governed by our fears, we deny that we are. We begin to get depressed. The challenge is to stop problem solving and to start purpose finding. When we do this we suddenly discover that we start to have greater influence and impact. We have moved from the normal condition of being acted upon to the extraordinary condition of being an actor, initiator and creator.

(This passage is adapted from material in Letters to Garrett, See Letter 2.)

Reflection

What did the woman is this story most need?

Why does purpose melt problems?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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