David remembers a time when he was working with an executive who had just been promoted to a leadership position. Wanting to make a positive impact, the leader convened several meetings with his new direct reports to answer this question: “What problems do we need to address?”
The staff was not initially aware of a lot of problems on the team. Wanting to follow instructions, they came to the next meeting with a list of a few minor problems. When one person spoke up, another followed with their list. With each meeting, the staff came up with more problems and the executive created meeting agendas focused on the list of issues among the staff.
By the third month in his job, the new executive was disillusioned. More and more time was taken with addressing problems. The normal one-hour staff meeting had turned into two hours. What were initially mild irritations among the staff grew into gut-wrenching complaint sessions, getting into the weeds of every problem.
Before the executive arrived, the staff reported very little dissatisfaction with their work, and on the whole they were happy with their relationships and how they worked together. Once the new executive shifted the focus to problems and what was wrong, the staff was told to look for what wasn’t working or needed to be fixed.
Problems become like glue. The more we focus on them, the stickier they get.
In the TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)™, we share an important concept we call FISBE. The “F” stands for Focus; the “IS” for Inner State; and “BE” for Behavior. In short, what we focus on creates an inner state (our emotions) and our behavior is a response to our emotions. This is a brief but important understanding of our how our human operating system functions.
The story of the executive is a perfect example of how the FISBE works in everyday life when leaders believe their primary job is to only fix problems. When he focused on problems, he and his staff experienced an inner state of anxiety and their insecurities and complaints (behavior) grew. It becomes a self-reinforcing “vicious” cycle, with each person coming up with more problems.
Creativity and innovation is almost impossible in the emotional state that is caused by constantly focusing on problems and what is wrong.
What if the new executive had asked a different set of questions: “What do you like about your work and relationships? What makes this organization successful? What support do you need to grow and fulfill our mission and purpose?”
The staff’s focus, FISBE, would be on what they do like and want. Their positive focus would create an inner state of appreciation, excitement and passion for one another, and how well they work together. The conversations would then be poised to address problems in service to creating the outcomes they envisioned.
Problems must be addressed. However, when problems become the primary focus and not linked to an inspiring outcome, they will stick together like glue.
When this happens, those you work and live with will lose sight of what you want to create together and problems will stick around a lot longer than they need to.