How Top-Down Problem-Solving Improves Hierarchical Organizations

Today, more and more leaders are emerging as problem-solvers. This is especially true in industries where a premium is placed on innovation. This new leadership style bucks the trend that, as your career progresses, you are supposed to become more generalized as you climb the leadership ladder. Instead, upcoming professionals can rest assured that remaining laser-focused on solving problems may still provide a path to becoming a leader.

An advanced degree in organizational leadership can equip graduates with the problem-solving skills to improve organizations, develop leadership abilities and grow in their careers.

What is Problem-Solving Leadership?

Problem-solving leadership is when people with a passion for seeking and solving complex issues develop into leaders.

For example, consider a person who is passionate about eliminating bots from social media. This person dives headfirst into solving this issue and recruits a few fellow coders to help them. They make a website describing their mission and inadvertently hear from investors interested in solving this same problem. Now, this person will be considered the de facto leader even though they haven’t done much except for try to solve a problem.

Instead of being granted a leadership role by a higher-up, problem-solving leaders take the initiative to solve the organization’s most pressing problems. Then, as they work to solve the problem, they encourage others to do the same, causing people to naturally rally around them.

According to Harvard Business Review, these leaders rarely expect to attract a following. Rather, they pursue their passion and encourage like-minded individuals to join them.  As the problem morphs, the problem-solving leader has no issue stepping aside so long as another team member’s skills are better suited to solving the new problem. This form of leadership is most common in industries where disruption is rewarded, like technology.

Let’s compare this to traditional leadership methods using organizations known for rigid structures.

Traditional Leadership Models

Military and police organizations are the most common examples of traditional leadership structures. In these organizations, people can collaborate in groups as small as two. However, they may also have to work in groups that are well over one hundred people. For this reason, comprehensive ranking and leadership models are put into place. Everybody has a strict role, and there is a very long chain of hierarchical command.

While these structures may work for organizations like the military, they tend to make the process of decision-making and problem-solving very difficult. Part of the reason is that so many people need to weigh in on an issue.

In particular, the military uses a system known as the military decision-making process (MDMP). To make decisions, they tend to leverage eight-step models with varying degrees of sub-steps. In some cases, these models can end up being over 50 steps long. While these models might be good for structural organizations, they do not encourage out-of-the-box thinking.

Additionally, it is unlikely for a problem-led leader to flourish in this environment. For example, let’s say that you are a military bomb diffuser that excels in high-pressure scenarios. The more you succeed, the more they will direct you into a leadership role that encourages you to share your knowledge with others. In this scenario, you might be plucked from your position as a problem-solver and instead forced to fill a traditional leadership role.

Another key distinction between the two is that leaders rarely get their hands dirty in traditional leadership roles. For example, the military lieutenant would never strap on boots and join a mission themselves. Instead, their position is back at home base directing their forces.

Compare this to a problem-solving leader of a tech startup. The problem-solving leader likely not only joins the employees doing the manual coding but also prefers it.

Looking Forward

The definition of “leadership” will most certainly always be in a state of flux. However, problem-solving leadership is emerging as a valid leadership style. With this in mind, professionals can continue to chase their passions and solve problems without the fear that this may prohibit their career goals.

In fact, going out of your way to solve problems within your organization may be an out-of-the-box way to become a leader. In other words, instead of waiting for a promotion, start working to improve your organization and encourage others to do the same.

For those interested in the study of leadership, there is an advanced degree in the space as some Master of Science programs offer specific courses in Organizational Leadership. One such example is the online program offered by Eastern Washington University.

In this program, students learn the social and emotional dimensions of organizational culture, communication, conflict resolution and leadership for social justice. Upon completion of the program, students will develop a deeper self-awareness regarding both their strengths and where they can improve.

Students can complete this program entirely online in as few as 10 months.

Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program.

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