Perhaps a testament to the survival instinct in human nature, many managers and contributors go to great lengths to avoid the maelstrom surrounding the most significant workplace problems.

  • Highlight the failing strategy, and you invite an airstrike from top management.
  • Seek to rid the team of a toxic employee, and you get caught up in a seemingly endless h.r. drill that feels like a perpetual invasive exam.
  • Highlight a less-than-optimal workflow process that crosses functions, and you likely step on someone’s toes, precipitating one or more uncomfortable encounters and life-long animosity.

In reality, each of these problem-situations and their many cousins are golden opportunities for ambitious managers or contributors intent on accelerating their careers.

Develop a reputation as someone everyone can count on to tackle the big, ugly issues, and watch the doors open. Of course, it pays to have a strategy to avoid the traps while stepping up to solving or fixing the problems others actively avoid.

Here are the top habits of individuals who survive and thrive as problem-solvers for the big, ugly issues in the workplace.

4 Power Tips for Great Workplace Problem-Solvers:

1. Great Problem-Solvers are Great Problem-Framers

Effective gray-zone problem-solvers are adept at avoiding the nails-on-chalkboard sound of the constant critic. Instead, they highlight the big, ugly issues as golden opportunities to move one step closer to success through careful situation framing.

A failing strategy is, in reality, an important experiment that demands adjustment or rethinking to move the firm closer to success. Framing strategy as a process of continuous learning and adaptation is much different than simply highlighting the flaws and failings of the current approach.

A struggling team is an opportunity to offer added organizational support, resources, or coaching to help them gain traction. Better yet, engage the team members on the struggling team to define what they need to get it right, and you earn commitment, which trumps compliance every time. The frame-shift is subtle but important.

The toxic employee who acts consistently in contradiction to the values of the firm needs a new opportunity outside the organization. Your challenge is to garner the power to make this happen expeditiously, fairly, and without creating excessive legal risk. It starts with proper framing.

Framing is both an art and a science. Get it right, and you garner support by appealing to the minds and hearts of those involved.

2. Great Problem-Solvers Treat Persuasion as a Process

Too many of us look for the fast “yes” to our ideas. Great problem-solvers taking on the big, ugly issues in our organizations understand gaining support is a process best navigated at the processing and internalization speed of their counterparts.

As Dr. Mark Goulston suggests in his book, Just Listen, helping people move from resisting to listening to considering to doing to glad-they-did is essential for anyone seeking to garner support. In my coaching practice, this insight alone is rocket fuel for motivated individuals frustrated at the slow rate of adoption of their ideas.

As part of this process, problem-solvers are adept at seeing the situation through the eyes of their counterparts and empowering them to identify situations and approaches that meet their needs. This step-by-step approach helps reduce fear and build trust as the parties work together to tackle something important to the business or initiative.

3. Great Problem-Solvers Build and Apply Clean Power

Perhaps the most visible work of problem-solvers who succeed with the big, ugly issues is their ability to bring disparate networks of individuals together for a common purpose. The best problem-solvers are network connectors, drawing upon their credibility to deliver the right expertise to the situation at the right time.

If you decide what gets done and who does what, by any label, this is power. Adept problem-solvers for big, ugly issues work hard to create what I describe as clean power by building bridges across functions and creating reciprocity deficits with their counterparts. (Help them before you need help.) And, they employ this clean-power on issues that appeal to common interests that drive organizational or initiative success.

4. Great Problem-Solvers Create Heroes

I love this approach to gaining support the most, although, it’s an opportunity earned by careful application of 1-3 above. Great organizational problem-solvers create clean-power by ensuring individuals involved in solving the big, ugly issues are visible and ultimately rewarded.

I watched one adept manager use these approaches and this tactic to move upward through the ranks at a torrid pace. People quickly recognized that his projects were visible to top management and that when they succeeded (always), they would be showcased as a critical contributor. It’s incredible how many people want to attach themselves to success!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Cultivate clean power, and then use it to drive success. While this approach isn’t risk-free, it’s far superior to living in the organization’s shadows, hoping to avoid airstrikes and dodge controversy.

Art's Signature