Fall in Love with the Problem

I was recently reading an article in Harvard Business Review which urged leaders to “fall in love with the problem instead of the solution.”

The argument was a compelling one. When leaders fall in love with their own solutions instead of the underlying problems, they look for evidence to support those solutions, whether or not they’re the best solutions or even good ones. It’s human nature to justify our own ideas.

On the other hand, by focusing on the problem…by falling in love with it, every solution becomes subject to a reality check. By keeping the emphasis entirely on the problem, leaders can objectively assess the solutions they come up with to make sure they are truly addressing the issue at hand.

I think this “problem loving” strategy is especially important in dealing with advancing female talent in an organization. Unfortunately, for the most part, organizations continue to go for the “solution loving” approach which usually includes:

  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Training programs for women
  • Creating women’s networks
  • Sponsorship programs
  • Mentorship programs
  • Recruiting more women for key roles

This list encompasses just about all the “to do’s” we read about and hear about to achieve gender equality at all corporate levels. But it’s not working. While good intentioned, these strategies have resulted only in a trickle of talented women reaching the highest corporate levels. The main reason for the failure to date is that most organizations hit on one or two of these much-loved solutions and run with them. Same thing is true with the articles on gender equality. They focus on one piece of the problem and posit one solution that promises to fix the situation.

The problems underlying the lack of gender parity are far too complex to respond to one or two fixes. The absence of women at higher corporate levels is a pervasive and complex problem and requires solutions that are equally so. By “loving the problem,” organizations and their managers will see that:

  • there is an underlying corporate culture that needs to be dealt with
  • women themselves have to address their own reticence to take risks and advocate for their advancement
  • male mentors are needed and have to be educated to understand the attitudes and behaviors of their female mentees
  • development programs are useless unless the development is supplemented and reinforced in the workplace.

My point is this: If we fall in love with the problem, we will better understand its hydra-like complexity. We will become more willing to take a holistic approach rather than a simplistic one. We will see that the solution is usually not “a” or “b” but “all of the above.”

At WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. our partners view us as an organizational solution because we offer this holistic approach to developing female talent.

Rosina L. Racioppi

President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.