August 31, 2008

Stop Solving Problems

Too often individuals in leadership positions see their job as solving problems for others instead of engaging others in problem solving. Our mayor recently made this error when announcing he was considering the possible sale of neighborhood pocket parks.

Like many cities, Indianapolis faces some significant budget challenges. Our new mayor ran on a platform of reducing government expense and rightly is looking at every budget line for possible savings.

But a completely unnecessary political tug-of-war has since unfolded. I say unnecessary because however admirable the mayor’s overall intentions (greater fiscal responsibility), he failed to engage those most affected by the decisions as possible problem-solvers. In stead of seeing them as collaborators, he has left them to be critics.

A far better approach would have been to convene a meeting of neighborhood leaders and say something like this:
As you know we are facing difficult financial decisions. I recognize the value of neighborhood parks and how they enhance community pride and the quality of life. But having numerous very small parks is costly to maintain and difficult to manage. I need your help in identifying ways the city can collaborate with neighborhood associations and each neighborhood’s residents to maintain and even enhance park quality while reducing the city’s financial exposure. Let’s start brainstorming how we might be able to do that.
If we want people to accept more responsibility for the quality of their neighborhoods, their communities, their professional associations, their workplaces, and beyond, we have to engage them not merely as recipients of our decisions and solutions, but as active deciders and solution-creators themselves. Leadership then involves more convening and conversing, more thinking with than delivering to, more facilitation than mere providing.

2 comments:

David M. Patt, CAE said...

The neighborhood associations, in this case, are basically being told they have to sacrifice. Involving them in the decision, while admirable, is simply handing them the knife to stab themselves.

What if they proposed cuts they didn't think would affect their neighborhoods?

What if they proposed cutting expenses that support, the airport, hotels, and tourism?

What if they proposed cutting the mayor's staff or reducing salaries and expenses of elected officials and municipal employees?

Neighborhood groups, like association members, should be consulted all of the time, not just when they are being asked to give up something.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

David:

The neighborhood associations aren't being told anything specifically; the citizens are. I simply used the associations as an example of an existing public communication conduit that could be sued to engage the citizenry is generating other possible solutions rather than selling pocket parts to a private enterprise.

And if ultimately I'm going to be stabbed, I'd prefer to direct the blade to where in might inflict the last pain and long-term damage just as if I am going to be given a bonus at work, I'd prefer to have some say it what the reward is as opposed to having a cash amount given to me when I might prefer more time off or some other option.

For me it's an issue of engagement and involving others in doing for themselves that which typically leaders do to/for them (that's a philosophy articulated by Margaret Wheatley's in "A Simpler Way."