Source from:
July 2018 Special Issue 1 Business SCAN

Within the context of modern leadership practices, the ability to problem solve has come to be regarded as a critical cognitive skill. Through actively engaging in creative problem-solving processes, leaders can identify, formulate and implement strategies to help reduce the likelihood of failure, whilst simultaneously enhancing the quality of individual, team and organisational practices. This Hot Topic will offer you with some food for thought in relation to your own approach to leadership.

Become a Problem-Solving Leader

Problem-Solving Leadership Styles

What skills do people look for in a leader? To answer this question and build upon a growing body research which has sought key leadership practices, Harvard Business School compiled a dataset containing the insights of 332,860 members of various organisations, who were asked to highlight the skills they believed to be most conducive to a leader’s success. In addition to qualities such as the ability to inspire others, the capacity to problem solve was identified as one of the most central leadership skills.

In conjunction with these findings, researchers at MIT have recently championed the notion of “problem-led leaders”, a style of leadership which is characterised by a passion for solving complex issues which may arise within the workplace. This style of leadership often embraces ambiguous work-related problems and relies heavily on collaboration, in order to identify and implement creative and innovation solutions.

Coyotes, Competitors and Eagles

Before you can solve problems, you must first determine how you address problems. When attempting to overcome problems in the workplace, there are three dominant stereotypes leaders tend to adhere to: The Coyote, The Competitor, and The Eagle.

Coyotes, Competitors and Eagles.
The Coyote The Coyote tends to trust their gut. Once a problem has been identified, the Coyote will actively seek to resolve the problem quickly (often relying on a restricted repertoire of strategies). The Coyote tends to overlook risk and danger, instead favouring an action centred approach, whereby focus is directed toward the implementation of strategies which could enable a swift resolution to the presenting problem.
The Coyote The Competitor is solution focused. When a problem arises, the Competitor views it as a puzzle to be solved, often relying on the deployment of tried and tested strategies which are perceived to “fit” the problem. The Competitor demonstrates a great faith and conviction in a fixed repertoire of existing strategies and may often chose to view their (working) world from a single perspective.
The Eagle The Eagle views each problem as unique. Rather than directly engaging in solution focused strategies, the Eagle ensures that the problem is fully understood (often testing prototype solutions before actual implementation). The Eagle considers two key questions when formulating solutions to each specific problem they encounter, “How will the solution be conducted?” and “What specifically will be done?”.

Whilst most leaders traditionally fall within the category of Coyote or Competitor, flexibility in one’s approach to problem solving is key. Rather than an over-reliance on a one size fits all approach, leaders must maintain a sense of balance and ensure the solution reflects the context.

Sources: Kerns, C. D. (2016) Decisive Problem Solving: A Key Leadership Practice. Journal of Management Policy and Practice, 17(2), 62.; Mumford, M. D., Todd, E. M., Higgs, C., & McIntosh, T. (2017) Cognitive skills and leadership performance: The nine critical skills. The Leadership Quarterly, 28(1), 24-39.; Newman, V. (2017) Made-to-measure Problem-solving. Routledge.; Problem-Led Leadership, MIT Leadership Center [online] Available at:

Action Point

Are you a Coyote, a Competitor or an Eagle? How does your dominant style impact on your problem-solving capabilities?

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Techniques Referenced in this Hot Topic

Behaviourist Psychology | Decision Trees | Knowledge Management

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