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Vol. 7, No. 2
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102  

Extraordinary achievements demand extraordinary leaders.

© 2009 William A. Cohen, PhD



Recent Articles by Dr. Cohen:

What are You Going to Do About It? from Human Resources IQ

Peter Drucker Says Leaders Make Themselves from Training Magazine

Leadership Laws – It was Drucker’s Favorite Book   from Leadership Excellence Magazine

People Have no Limits – Even after Failure from Human Resources IQ

A Sure Way to Fail from

What to Do about the Crisis from

Drucker: Every Leader Must Declare his Expectations from

Peter Drucker of the Value of Ignorance from Performance and Profits

Peter Drucker’s Story of Two Vice Presidents (Why What Everybody Knows Is Frequently Wrong) from Moving Ahead

Webcast: The Lost Lessons of Peter Drucker from The American Management Association

Five Things William Cohen Has Learned From Peter Drucker from CIO Magazine

How the World’s Most Celebrated Management Consultant Got His Title from Industry Week

The Night Peter Drucker Declared He Was Not My Father from

Drucker’s Lost Lesson from Training Magazine

Effective Leadership in Leadership Excellence




A leader is a decision maker and a problem solver. You can’t get away from it, the two go hand-in-hand. Rodger D. Collons, Professor of Creative Leadership at The American College found in his research that the ability to solve problems or contribute to problem solving is a prime characteristic of many effective leaders.1Further, the problems you must solve are frequently difficult. Sometimes a lot is riding on your decision. Your decision making is done under conditions of great risk and uncertainty. That makes taking the decision in itself a difficult task.


Decision Making Is An Important Function Of All Leaders

Ellmore C. Patterson was formerly Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of J. P. Morgan & Co., Inc. This is one of the largest banking enterprises in the world, with assets exceeding 25 billion dollars. When Chairman, Patterson emphasized the critical importance of decision making: “We make it clear to new employees from the start that there’ll always be uncertain or unknowable factors in a situation. We want them to collect and consider all relevant information. But over-study can’t substitute for decision-making.”Peter Drucker wrote, “Executives spend more time on managing people and making people decisions than on anything else – and they should.”As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Crowe was the highest ranking military officer in the United States Armed Forces. In an interview in Time magazine Admiral Crowe stated: “I have known individuals who made a big decision and never gave it another thought. I don’t. When it’s a big issue, I don’t sleep soundly.”4

And military leaders sometimes do have major decisions with which they must cope. The Bible states that Gideon had to attack against vastly superior numbers about 1100 B.C. He faced a host of well-trained, battle-experienced Midianites in a fortified encampment. His troops consisted of a ragged assortment of untrained soldiers. All Gideon had to do was to say that anyone that wanted could leave and twenty-two thousand of his soldiers departed for home without looking back. That was two-thirds of his army! Gideon had to come up with something fast. He decided there was no point in trying to fight his enemy conventionally. So his decision (and it had to be a tough one to make) was to further reduce his force to 300 hard core fighters of superior courage. He gave each of the 300 a trumpet, a torch and an empty pitcher and divided them into three companies. That night the three companies surrounded the Midianite camp. The empty pitchers covered their torches. On Gideon’s signal, they broke the pitchers and blew their trumpets. Than they shouted: “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.” You can imagine what went on in the Midianite camp. Usually each torch represented at least a company of men. The Midianites thought they were under attacked by thousands of Hebrews. The Bible (Judges 7) tells us that “ . . . the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Beth-shittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath.” Not surprising that today, Gideon is taken as the model for commando operations in the Israeli Army.


A Flying Gideon Makes The Right Decisions To Begin A War

Decision making under the press of combat is not something unusual for commandos of any army. During the Gulf War, Colonel George Gray was commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing of the U.S. Air Force, part of the Air Commandos. Gray had a major problem. Baghdad, facing an imminent air assault was ringed with radar stations that would give ample warning of attack. Consequently, losses in the first wave of allied aircraft were likely to be very high. The obvious solution to Gray was to have his Pace Low helicopters fly right on the desert deck and land teams of Army Green Berets on the ground to blow the radar sites up. However, like Gideon, Colonel Gray had a problem. The politics of the situation and the risk of blowing the whole war plan were such that General Schwarzkopf wouldn’t approve anybody on the ground “across the line” before H-hour.

Larger aircraft had the right weapons, but the precise accuracy needed wouldn’t be available. Pave Low helicopters had the electronics to find the precise targets in the darkness, but were armed only with machineguns for defense. Army Apache helicopters were heavily armed, but didn’t have the navigation equipment needed to find the target in the dark. Colonel Gray came up with a solution that he presented to General Schwarzkopf. Gray’s Pave lows would act as pathfinders for the Army Apaches, which would destroy the radar sites. General Schwarzkopf liked and authorized the training and preparation for the mission. At last they were ready, and General Schwarzkopf watched the rehearsal and then turned to Gray. “Can you guarantee me 100%?” he asked. After a long pause, Colonel Gray responded: “Yes sir, I will.”

“Okay Colonel, you can start the war,” Schwarzkopf told him.5

The rest, as they say, is history. Allied losses, even in the first wave were minimal. The successful air campaign translated into minimal losses on the ground as well, and General Schwarzkopf’s total losses were only a few hundred, despite the large number of troops engaged and his resounding victory.

You Must Prevent Problems From Overcoming Your Vision

On the way to reach your goal, you are bound to come up against obstacles. Everything that can go wrong, will sometimes go wrong. That’s the nature of the process in reaching any worthwhile goal. It’s normal to have problems. Expect them. But as a leader, be ready to solve these problems when they occur. How can you be assured of solving these problems? First you have to understand that there are two types of problems which you will encounter. One type you usually shouldn’t attempt to solve personally. The other type, only you can solve. Let’s look at both.


The Type Of Problems You Shouldn’t Attempt To Solve Personally

Many problems that you encounter you should leave to others in your organization to solve. There are several reasons for this. If you become your organization’s routine problem solver, you will soon find that the members of your organization will bring more and more problems to your doorstep. Soon, you will be spending all of your time problem solving, and have very little time for strategic planning or even general thinking. You will spend all of your time “fire fighting,” and mostly it won’t even be your own fires!

Another reason that you don’t want to try to solve all problems yourself is that you will rob your subordinates of valuable training in problem solving that they need. More than one leader has failed because he or she became the indispensable man or woman in his or her own organization. Than came the one time when this leader wasn’t available to solve an important problem. Subordinates either procrastinated until no solution could save the situation, or came up with a poor solution because of their lack of training.

Finally, when those who follow you are successful in solving a problem, there is a feeling of accomplishment and an increase in self-confidence. This can enhance the overall performance of your organization in the future. When you solve all problems yourself, you deprive members of your organization of these benefits.Now, this doesn’t mean that when there is a problem you do nothing but smile. Of course you should help those who follow you solve their problems with ideas, or suggestions if asked. Make it as easy as you can for them to solve their problems. But it should be their problems, not yours.  As General Perry M. Smith says: “By being the problem solver of last resort, the leader can help the organization grow and thrive.”6

Situations In Which You Must Be The Problem Solver

There are some situations in which you must be the problem solver. And it doesn’t make any difference at what level you are operating. E.M. Lee, president and CEO of Information Handling Services of Englewood, Colorado stated definitely: “The CEO has to be the problem-solver. He has to be able to crack open problems, as I call it, then call on others for expertise, reduce the problem to manageable pieces,” and finally develop, “a framework for judgement.”7

Here are some situations in which you must be the problem solver:

1.   The problem pertains to leadership of your organization.

2.   You have unique expertise, knowledge or experience required in the problems’s solution.

3.   It is an emergency situation.

4.   Those who follow you are stuck.


How The Chief Of Naval Operations Solved An Unsolvable Problem

One of the problems faced by the United States Navy in the 1970’s was a stubborn form of racism which even the best efforts of top leadership in the Navy had been unable to eradicate. The problem resulted from the fact that the Navy had a largely all white history. Thousands of African-Americans had served in the U.S. Army for more than a hundred years. Not so, the Navy. One result was that there were African-Americans who were general officers in both the Army and the Air Force. There were no Black Admirals in the Navy. Then Admiral Elmo Zumwalt became Chief of Naval Operations. In the past, African-Americans hadn’t reached senior positions in the Navy mainly because they had not been assigned to the important command and staff positions earlier in their careers. These experiences were usually general requirements for reaching higher command. The Navy was making some progress. But the rate of progress was so slow, that it constituted a serious injustice against a significant number of naval officers. The problem was further complicated by the fact that a tour of duty as the Chief of Naval Operations is only for a fixed number of years. This meant that the actions or inactions of a successor could reverse changes made by any Chief of Naval Operations. This was a situation in which only Admiral Zumwalt could solve the problem. With great moral courage and against considerable opposition Zumwalt, made significant changes in the promotion and assignment system in the Navy. He set out not only to insure equal opportunities for minority promotion to top leadership positions, but to correct the imbalance of the past. He also realized that the changes must be made in such a way that they could not be reversed. That these changes were not universally popular is a vast understatement. But they succeeded. Although, some procedures were reversed after Admiral Zumwalt’s retirement, his basic system of fair treatment remains to this day. As Admiral Zumwalt, then retired, said during a course on leadership for senior leaders: “Others wanted to make these changes, but thought they weren’t possible. A leader has to be willing to try.”


Know How To Solve Problems

Effective leaders know how to solve problems. Another words, they don’t just muddle about worrying what they’re going to do, hoping that the answer will come. They have certain structured methods that they employ as tools. Depending on the problem and the situation, they select the right tool for the right job. Than they proceed. Here are three tools to help you solve your problems as a leader:

1. Brainstorming

2. Psychological Techniques

3. Analysis of Alternatives


What is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a group problem solving methodology. The basic idea is very simple. Two or more individuals get together and bounce ideas off one another. No idea, no matter how outlandish is excluded. Ideas are built on each other and eventually a preferred solution emerges. Two decision making researchers, my friends Dr. Alan Rowe from the University of Southern California and Dr. Jim Boulgarides from California State University Los Angeles have found that brain storming forces people to think freely by removing the barriers of inhibition, self-criticism, and criticism of others. “The technique tends to generate more ideas and increases the chances of success,” they stated.8

Use brainstorming under the following conditions:

n  Your group contains a lot of expertise, and you want to make use of as much of this expertise as possible.

n  You want maximum commitment to the problem solution. You are more likely to get this with brainstorming because everyone you invite will participate in the problem solving and the solution. Thus, they will have ownership in the solution.

n  You want a really creative solution. You’re going to really let your hair down in a brainstorming session. You’ll listen to all sorts of ideas. Some will be pretty strange and unworkable. Still, the fact that you’re willing to listen will dredge up some ideas that are very creative. In fact, I’m willing to bet that whatever solution comes out of a brainstorming session, you wouldn’t have thought of it on your own.


How To Conduct A Brainstorming Session

It is a real challenge to conduct a brainstorming session. The challenge is to get the maximum ideas that you can and not to kill any ideas prematurely. Use must also maintain some control without dimming the enthusiasm. And believe me, in an effective brainstorming session, the ideas will be coming thick and fast. Usually it works best to have something to write on like a blackboard with someone that can write fast and legibly recording the groups ideas.

First, introduce the problem. State any limitations or conditions to the problem, but keep even these open to closer examination. Answer any questions about the problem that you can. Then ask for ideas for solving the problem.

Write every idea someone suggests on the blackboard so that everyone can see it. Encourage new ideas and the building on ideas that have already been suggested. This means that you should constantly give recognition for suggestions as they are made. Don’t allow any member of the group to criticize any ideas that are suggested, no matter how ridiculous or bizarre. Focus on how to make “stupid” ideas work rather than why an idea won’t work.

Wait until the group runs out of ideas, before examining the ideas suggested for their practicability. Be ready to entertain new ideas at any time. Keep recording the main points made by the group on the blackboard or where they can be seen. Continue to answer questions that group members may have about the problem. Eventually, you’ll have a few solutions that appear to be the most promising. Focus your discussion on these until eventually there is a group consensus regarding the preferred solution.

Make sure that each member of your brainstorming session is aware of your appreciation for his or her contribution. You are still the group leader. Even though the group came to a consensus solution to the problem, it is still your decision as to whether you should adopt this consensus decision or not, or whether or not to adopt it in some modified form. This doesn’t in any way detract from the fact that the members of the group made important contributions to your understanding of the problem.

General Courtney Whitney was with General MacArthur for more than twenty years. When asked what made MacArthur great he replied, “He made his men feel that their contribution was an important one – that they were somebody.”So when you complete your brainstorming session, don’t forget this important final step.


Brainstorming Can Work Wonders

The brainstorming methodology can work wonders for any organization. I have witnessed this many times myself. Major General William Rowley retired as a general in the Air Force Reserve. Today, he is an international businessman. As a brigadier general, he took over an Air Force Reserve research and development organization in California that had serious problems. This organization had been without an assigned general officer for six months. Other reassignments and retirements had left the organization without many of its old leaders. By the time of General Rowley’s assumption of command, morale was low and productivity was down. Here again was a problem that only the leader could solve. General Rowley called together his staff of senior Reservists for a brainstorming session. In eight hours of productive work, this meeting resulted in a new organizational structure, new organizational goals and a renewed purpose in life. Rowley demonstrated once again the truism of General Patton’s claim that any organization could be spurred into a state of high morale “in a week’s time.”10 A month later this organization conducted one of the largest training conferences of its type ever held. Its peacetime contributions to the active duty force that it supported were so great and its readiness for mobilization to such a high standard that it earned numerous letters of commendation. Later, General Rowley was deservedly promoted to major general.


Psychological Techniques

Psychological techniques have to do with using the mind. Some leaders avoid using psychological techniques. It is easy to understand why. Leaders tend to be hardheaded men and women of action. The psychological tends to smell of the soft and uncertain, the “touchie-feelie” stuff with which we are uncomfortable. Yet, many of these same leaders would be surprised to learn that they may have already used psychological techniques in their problem solving without realizing it. Have you? Maybe you have. Have you ever experienced a case where you had a problem that bothered you and finally fell asleep without a solution? Frequently, with no prompting, you awoke in the morning, and there was the solution. It just popped into your mind. You didn’t even need to think about it. If you thought about this at all, you probably thought that this was you’re intuition at work.

In reality, whether you planned it that way or not, you used a psychological technique in arriving at this solution. What really happened? Your conscious mind was unsuccessful at coming up with a solution. The conscious mind eventually gets tired. It has to sleep, and eventually it did. But you also have a subconscious mind. It never sleeps. It is awake twenty four hours a day, but it is only in control when your conscious mind is asleep. What happened was this.  Your conscious mind went to sleep without the solution. It turned the problem over to your subconscious mind. Like a changing of the guard, your subconscious mind went to work on the problem, and it found the solution. At the right time after you woke up, it gave this solution to your conscious mind.


How Donald trump Found The Importance Of Psychological Decision Making

Famous builder, entrepreneur, and deal-maker Donald Trump can attest to the importance of this phenomena. In his book Trump: The Art of the Deal, he relates how a friend wanted him to invest fifty million dollars in a “no-lose” proposition. At first Trump agreed. As Trump tells it: “The papers were being drawn up, and then one morning I woke up and it just didn’t feel right.” Trump decided not to invest. Several months later, the company went bankrupt and the investors lost all the money they put up.11

Dr. Zelma Barinov has been investigating decision making for over twenty five years, first finishing her doctorate in Information Science and Cybernetics in Moscow, and then heading a department at a research center.  According to Dr. Barinov, 98 percent, and in some cases 100 percent of crucial decision making information is nonverbal. She says, “Your unconscious is the most influential player on your decision team.”12


Why The Subconscious Mind Can Sometimes Do A Better Job Than The Conscious Mind

Once you have all the facts, it is not unusual for your subconscious mind to do a better job of problem solving than your conscious mind. Why is this so? One reason is that your subconscious mind has no distractions. Your conscious mind is distracted by other problems, worry, fear, the pressure of time, and other elements. Also, your subconscious mind has more time to work on the problem. Most people can’t stay still long enough to really get to work on a problem without being disturbed or having to do something else. Not so with your subconscious mind. It keeps working as long as you are asleep. Finally, your subconscious mind may not be limited by false assumptions that your conscious mind may make. For example, you may remember a certain “fact” incorrectly. But your subconscious mind knows better. It remembers perfectly. Thus it can come to a solution which your conscious mind would reject simply because of a faulty premise.


The Thomas Edison Exception

There are exceptions for those who can sit still long enough for their conscious minds to work. Thomas Edison is one well-known example. Edison’s favorite technique for problem solving was to go to a darkened room in which he could not be disturbed and simply sit and think. He would sit and think for hours, confident that eventually the answer would come to him. He was confident that it would, because it always did. Edison was therefore willing to spend hours in his “thinking room” waiting for a solution.

Encouraging Your Subconscious Mind To Come Up With The Solution

Now there’s no question that your subconscious mind can come up with the solution to a particular problem. But if you want to use this phenomenon as a problem solving technique, you’ve got to use a definite approach. I recommend the following procedure:

1.   Get as much information that you can about the problem. Read everything you can. Talk to people who have a bearing on the solution. Investigate similar problems and how they were resolved.

2.   Before you go to sleep, set aside a period of a half hour to an hour in which you do nothing but think about the problem and analyze the data you have obtained.

3.   Go to sleep naturally. Do not try to force the issue. Relax and do not worry. Keep a pencil and paper by your bed. Although the solution usually comes the following morning when you are awake, it can come in the middle of the night. If it does, and you are suddenly awake, write the solution down immediately. It is possible to be in a semi-awake state and have the solution in the middle of the night only to forget it so that you don’t know it in the morning.


Analysis Of Alternatives

The U.S. military establishment developed the analysis of alternatives or staff study technique in the 1890s. It is an effective method for considering the major factors involved and comparing alternative solutions. It is also useful as a means of documenting your analysis and thinking and presenting it to others. It is so popular today, that many different professions use it. It is taught in the Harvard Business School. Attorneys and some medical practitioners also use it. And of course, the military still uses it. A method that has such flexibility to be of use in entirely different professions must be pretty powerful, and it is.

There are six steps to the analysis of alternatives method:

1.   Define the problem’s center of gravity and write the problem statement.

2.   Determine the relevant factors.

3.   Develop alternative solutions and think through the advantages and disadvantages of each.

4.   Analyze and compare the relative merits of each alternative.

5.   Draw conclusions from your analysis.

6.   Choose the alternative which best solves your problem.

Let’s look at each step in this process.


Defining The Problem’s Center Of Gravity And Writing A Problem Statement

Defining the problem’s center of gravity and writing a problem statement is probably the most important part of this problem solving method. If a doctor doesn’t diagnose the correct illness, the medicine prescribed may not cure. In fact, it can cause harm. The same principle holds with problems. J. Edward Russo and Paul J.H. Schoemaker are two professors who have studied the decision making process extensively, Dr. Russo at Cornell University, and Dr. Schoemaker, my MBA alma mater, the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago. They state that decision trap number 1 that gets in the way of good decision making is “Beginning to gather information and reach conclusions without taking a  few minutes to think about the crux of the issue you are facing or to think through how you believe decisions like this one should be made.”13 They call this “plunging in.” It’s very important to identify the center of gravity of the problem situation before you “plunge in.” Otherwise, the solution you implement may not work. It could actually worsen the situation.

What is the center of gravity of a problem? This is a concept borrowed from Carl Von Clausewitz. Clausewitz lived during the time of Napoleon and served as a general in the Napoleonic Wars. His book On War is the most famous book about the nature of war ever written. Clausewitz said that in any war situation, the enemy has one or more centers of gravity. A center of gravity is “the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends.” According to Clausewitz, “That is the point against which all our energies should be directed.”14 The same is true with a leadership problem. We must identify the center of gravity of the problem situation so that we can direct all our energies against this point.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you have a superior engineer in your organization.15 He’s been a reliable employee as well as a skillful and inventive engineer for the last seven years. Some months ago, this engineer’s immediate supervisor found out that he had started a part time business on which he worked on evenings and weekends. The products he made and sold were similar to your company’s. For several months, the supervisor took no action. He thought that the business wouldn’t amount to much and that the engineer would eventually lose interest. However, one afternoon, he saw him using a company telephone ordering materials for his business on company time. The supervisor reprimanded him immediately. He told him that he would report the incident to you, which he did. You sent the engineer written notice that he must either drop the business or resign from your company. You gave him 30 days to wind down the business or leave.

Thirty days later, the supervisor asked him directly whether he still had the business. He answered that he talked to friends and officers of the engineer’s union to which he belonged. He stated that he wouldn’t give up his business or resign. His argument was that he was a good employee and that his outside business did not interfere with his work for your organization. The small amount of business that he did could not hurt your company. Also, he was not using company resources, nor soliciting company accounts. Therefore, what he did with his own time was of no concern of the company’s. The supervisor reported the conversation to you.

Clearly you have a problem. Now maybe you would have handled the problem differently when you first heard from this engineer’s supervisor. But let’s assume you acted exactly as I stated. What do you do now? First look for the center of gravity in the problem. Is it how to keep to avoid firing this engineer? Not really. You may have to fire him if this is the best solution from your analysis. The same could be said about focusing in on how to keep this engineer in your organization. Is the center of gravity what policy should your company establish regarding employees establishing outside businesses? This may be a problem that needs to be worked on for the future. However, it doesn’t let you off the hook with this engineer. How about focusing in on the fact that your warning to get rid of the business or leave the company? Well, that may be an important relevant factor. But it can’t be the center of gravity. Wouldn’t the problem still exist even if you hadn’t given the engineer a warning?

If you look at the situation closely, you’ll see that the center of gravity is this engineer’s outside business activities. What action to take about them is a fair problem statement based on the problem’s center of gravity.

Here are some hints for identifying any problem’s center of gravity and wording the problem statement:

  • Be careful of issues that are not the center of gravity of the problem.
  • Don’t mistake a symptom of a problem for a problem. “Profits are down” is a symptom. Dig deeper to find the center of gravity by asking yourself why profits are down.
  • Try to avoid problem statements of an either/or nature. These are problem statements that permit only two alternatives. Whether to fire this engineer or not is such a statement.
  • As you proceed through the analysis, don’t be afraid to rework your problem statement, or even focus on a different center of gravity if you see something that you missed earlier.

Determining The Relevant Factors

Both the words “relevant” and “factor” are important. If the factor isn’t relevant to the center of gravity of your problem, ignore it. Combining it with factors that are relevant will simply confuse the issue. The word is “factor” not “fact” because you should also include assumptions, calculations, and estimates as well as facts. Be sure to differentiate assumptions from facts when you write down your relevant factors. That way you are more likely to question the accuracy of your assumptions. And you know that you’re assuming some risk should your assumptions prove to be wrong. What relevant factors did you find in the problem regarding this engineer’s outside business activities. Here are the relevant factors that I found:


1.   This engineer has been a superior engineer and a reliable employee for seven years prior to this problem.

2.   The products that he makes for his business are similar to those made by your company.

3.   The engineer’s supervisor knew about the business, but took no action for several months.

4.   The engineer was observed conducting his business on company time and using a company telephone.

5.   You ordered him in writing to divest his business or resign.

6.   He stated that he would neither resign nor give up his business.


1.   His friends and union officers support his position as stated. He will complain to the union if fired.

2.   As stated, he is not soliciting company accounts.

3.   His current level of business won’t hurt the company’s business.

4.   His outside work is no longer done on company time, or he would agree to this if it were demanded.

5.   Current company policies do not specifically forbid outside businesses. However there are conflict of interest issues involved. These include ownership of ideas resulting from company work, secrecy clauses, etc.

6.   This engineer is not a key employee. That is, his leaving the company will not have a direct negative impact. It could however impact on morale if he is perceived to have been treated unfairly.

Now we are in a position to look at alternative solutions.


Developing Alternative Solutions With Their Advantages and Disadvantages

After the important preliminary work that we just completed, we are in a position to look at alternative courses of action which can solve the problem. As we do this, we also want to make certain that we list both advantages and disadvantages for each potential solution that we consider. Is there ever a potential solution that has all advantages and no disadvantages? Probably not. In such a situation, the solution is usually obvious, and no problem solving methodology is necessary. It could be that the potential solution has all advantages and no disadvantages, but the advantages are very slight. Marginal advantages in itself would be a disadvantage. If your problem concerns changing a way of doing something, one “solution” should be to continue your currently way of operating. This is because even if bad, your current action may be the best thing that you can do. This won’t solve your problem as you originally conceived it. But you will least know that you are doing the best that you can, unless you change other conditions defined in your problem. Once you have your alternative solutions listed, check each against your problem statement. Does your solution solve the problem as you have stated it? If not, you must rework your problem statement.

Let’s look at some same alternative solutions to solve the problem of our engineer’s outside business.


1. Fire him


A. Will enforce discipline.

B. Will discourage employees from starting outside businesses in the


C. Will solve conflict of interest problems between the company and

engineer’s businesses.


A. May lead to union problems.

B. Could lead to problems with other employees if they believe the action

is unfair.

C. Will lose an experienced, and otherwise superior engineer and reliable


2. Retain him.


A. Will avoid union problems.

B. Will maintain services of experienced, and otherwise superior engineer

and reliable employee.

C. Will avoid problems with other employees due to a perception of unfair



A. May cause discipline problems with others.

B. Could lead to a direct conflict of interest between company and

engineer’s businesses.

C. Will establish a precedent of tolerating outside businesses.

D. May encourage other employees to start outside businesses.


3. Ask This Engineer To Resign, But Retain Him As A consultant


A. May avoid union problems.

B. Will maintain discipline.

C. Will remove the possibility of conflict of interest.

D. Will be fair considering the engineers past service and performance.

E. May not encourage other outside businesses.


A.  May encourage other employees to aspire to become consultants

rather than company employees.

B.  May not solve the problem if the engineer chooses not to resign or not

to work as a consultant.

Analyzing And Comparing The Relative Merits Of Each Alternative

In this step you analyze the relative importance of the advantages and disadvantages of each potential solution. A particular solution may have only one disadvantage. But if that disadvantage is particularly important, that may be an indication that this solution has very little merit. A review of your problem statement and the relevant factors will keep you focused on what you are trying to do.

Several important issues bear on this problem. First there is the disciplinary issue. The engineer was told to resign or get rid of his business. He did neither. Fair treatment is most important. This engineer has performed in a superior manner in the past. There is no current conflict of interest or use of company resources. Whatever action you take, you must consider its effect on other company employees, potential union involvement, and even a legal suit. There is also a policy issue. Your present solution will set precedent and policy for the future. Formal policy also needs to be established. Otherwise, you’re going to be plagued with similar problems in the future. These issues argue against firing the engineer. Starting his own business was the first mistake of a superior and reliable employee. The action would probably perceived to be unfair by other employees. The union would most likely become involved. None of these results are very desirable.

Unfortunately, it will be difficult to retain this engineer under the circumstances. Even if you decide to accept the potential conflict of interest, the possibility of encouraging other employees to start their own part time businesses is too serious to permit. Getting the engineer to resign in exchange for employment as a consultant is the only potential solution which isn’t negatively affected by the main issues. What if he won’t resign? Than you’ll have to fire him. However, having made the offer of a consultancy, you have been fair and there is a good chance that this will be perceived accordingly. You will maintain discipline and not encourage outside businesses. There are also have reduced chances for a law suit, and reduced chances for a loss should such a suit occur. Before going on to the next step, review everything that you have done. Make certain that you have said exactly what you intended to say. Insure that you haven’t left anything out. If you need to make changes or modifications, do it before proceeding to the next step.


Drawing Conclusions From Your Analysis

When you draw your conclusions from your analysis, state them without explanation. Introduce no new material. Keep them short and sweet. This will make your conclusions stand out, which will aid you in re-working faulty ones. By faulty, I mean those that have insufficient support in your analysis or don’t result logically from your analysis. This is so important, I want to say it again. Your conclusions must come from the reasoning process in your analysis. Each conclusion should be obvious from the work you have done in the preceding section. If not, there is an error in your logic or you have insufficient support for your conclusion from the previous section.

   What are some logical conclusions from the engineer problem? Here are a few:

1.   All of the solutions have some negative aspects.

2.   Asking this engineer to resign, but retaining him as a consultant will retain the engineer’s services with minimum negative affect on your operations.

3.   If the engineer fails to resign, he should be fired.

4.   This solution should be presented to the engineer for what it is…fair to both sides.

5.   A formal policy on outside employment should be established as soon as possible.


Choosing The Alternative Which Best Solves Your Problem

We are now ready for the last step. If we’ve done our work correctly, the best solution is obvious. In this case it is to ask the engineer to resign, but retain him as a consultant. Under other conditions, one or another of the other solutions may have been better. What if your company has a policy of no consultants which you can’t change? If the engineer was critical to your operations, you might want to retain him at all costs. What if the engineer is doing business with a competitor? You may have to fire him with no possibility of consulting. There are endless variables and many additional potential solutions depending on the situation. The important thing is that you understand and be able to apply the process.


If You Want To Solve Leader Problems Fast, Start Doing This Today

1.   If you have problems that can best be solved by your group acting together, use brainstorming.

2.   For problems that you must solve by yourself, use a psychological technique or the analysis of alternatives.

One final bit of advice. Many leaders have discovered that within their problems lies the key to even greater success. To repeat again the words of that successful Confederate General Nathaniel Bedford Forest: “If the enemy is in our rear, than we’re in his.” Earl Nightingale, the famous motivational speaker and philosopher and then president of the largest motivational audio tape company in the world once related a couple of stories which confirm General Forest’s philosophy. Mr. Nightingale said that a vendor at the Chicago World’s Fair couldn’t get paper cups from his supplier to sell his ice cream. So he dreamed up the idea of using waffle mix. His wife ironed the waffle mix into conical shapes and let them dry. Now the container that held the ice cream was also edible! This invention made this vendor a millionaire. He called it an ice cream cone.

Nightingale also told the story of a successful businessman. Whenever his staff would come to him with a serious problem, this businessman would always answer enthusiastically, “good, excellent.” He knew that the other side of any problem was a potential fortune. In solving them, he frequently came up with ideas that made him lots of money. His problems were the key to his success. No wonder he was enthusiastic about them.

Do worry about your problems or the decisions you must make as a leader. Get started on turning your leadership problems into successes by using the techniques in this article.

1 Rodger D. Collons, “Spotlight on Leadership Traits,” in A. Dale Timpe, ed. Leadership (Facts on File Publications, Inc.: New York, 1987) p. 30.

2 Chester Burger, The Chief Executive (CBI Publishing Co.: Boston, 1978) p. 37.

3 Peter Drucker, On the Profession of Management (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1998) p. 33.

4 Bruce van Voorst, “Of War and Politics,” Time ((December 26, 1988) p. 74.

5 Orr Kelly, From a Dark Sky: The Story of U.S. Air Force Special Operations (New York: Pocket Books, 1996) pp. 294-296.

6 Perry M. Smith, Taking Charge (National Defense University Press: Washington, D.C., 1986) p. 5.

7 Charles R. Day, Jr., “What It Takes To Be A CEO,” in A. Dale Timpe, ed. Leadership (Facts on File Publications, Inc.: New York, 1987) p. 9.

8 Alan J. Rowe and James D. Boulgarides, Managerial Decision Making, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992) p. 123

9 Edgar F. Puryear,Jr., Nineteen Stars (Presidio Press: Presidio, California, 1971) p. 149.

10 Ibid. p. 233.

11 Donald J. Trump and Tony Schwartz, The Art of the Deal (Warner Books: New York, 1987) p. pp.27-28.

12 Zelma Barinov, Instant Decisions (Bala Cynwyd, Pennslvania: Access Press, 1998) pp. 17, 154.

13 J. Edward Russo and Paul J.H. Schoemaker, Decision Traps (New York: Fireside, 1990) p. 4.

14 Michael Howard and Peter Paret, eds. and translators, Carl Von Clausewitz: On War (Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey, 1976) pp. 595-596.

15 Adapted from “Theodore Thorburn Turner,” a case in Principles of Management, 4th ed. by George R. Terry (Richard D. Irwin, Inc.: Homewood, Illinois, 1964) p.222.


For more information, contact me directly by e-mail at or telephone (626) 794-5998. Yes we do give international seminars — The U.S. country code is 01.



Choose always the way that seems the best, however rough it may be. Custom will soon render it easy and agreeable.


                                                                                         – Pythagoras