Myth of the Right Answer

Almost all of my educational background and much of my early professional work focused on finding the right answer to problems. I was encouraged and rewarded for finding the right answer. I was penalized if my answer was wrong.

As a result, I carried a “find the right answer” mentality into my early leadership experiences. For example:

Problem My response
An employee was performing poorly. Find the right way to coach them.
People on my team resisted change. Find the right way to sell change.
Two employees were in conflict. Find the right way to resolve the conflict.


Unfortunately, my early attempts to find “the” right way to solve the leadership problems I faced often created more questions than answers and rarely resulted in a perfect solution.

Over time, I realized that the problem I had with leadership problem solving was that much of my experience before entering leadership taught me to believe the right answer myth – the idea that complex problems can be solved with some magical and singular right answer. The truth is that they cannot be solved that simply. Leadership problems are complex, and complex problems do not have a single right answer. They have multiple possible right answers – any of which might be okay – depending on a whole host of variables that makes each situation just little bit different.

The desire to find the right way to coach employees, sell change, or resolve conflicts initially resulted in me thinking that I could search out a single tool or approach that I could use in a wide range of circumstances to get good results in all of the different situations that I faced. While that effort did introduce me to lots of really good techniques and a few incredibly powerful principles, it did not lead me to a simple way to solve these complex problems. It did show me that I needed many tools and many ways of thinking about common leadership challenges in order to bring the combination of approaches I had learned to bear on any given problem.

If you find yourself facing a leadership problem like coaching a poorly performing employee, selling change, or resolving conflicts between team members, resist the temptation to accept the right answer myth by searching for “the” right answer. Instead, embrace the complexity of leadership problem solving and work on building a leadership toolbox full of many different approaches. With a wide and diverse set of leadership tools at your disposal, you can mix-and-match the many approaches you could use rather than continually applying one approach to all situations. As a result, you can find a good answer for this situation among the many possible answers for any situation you face.

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