Three questions to ask for problem solving

In Reader’s Digest a few years back, Captain Alan Bean wrote about his Apollo 12 mission. Bean stated, “Test pilots have a litmus test for evaluating problems. When something goes wrong, they ask, ‘Is this thing still flying?’ If the answer is yes, then there’s no immediate danger, no need to overreact.”
When Apollo 12 took off, the spacecraft was hit by lightning. The entire console began to glow with orange and red trouble lights.
There was the temptation to do something, but the pilots asked themselves, “Is this thing still flying in the right direction?”
The answer was yes. It was headed to the moon.
They let the lights glow as they addressed the individual problems and watched orange and red lights blink out, one by one. 
That’s something to think about in any pressure situation. If you’re still flying, think first, and then act. The questions the test pilots ask will serve you well as a leader.
When things go wrong, and they will, here are three questions to ask before taking action.
Leadership assessment: Evaluation
Bean observed the temptation is to “do something!” Human nature dictates when something bad happens, we are to respond.
But at times, our response is disproportionate to the size of the problem. In our knee-jerk reactions, we may overreact.
American artist Maya Lin said, “To fly we have to face resistance.” What perceptive leaders understand is not all resistance is negative. 
While some may think the obstacles they face will ground them, a smart leader sees obstacles as the very thing that will give them lift. 
When you accurately answer the question “Is this thing still flying?” setting the right course becomes easier.
Leadership assessment: Observation
This is critical to the success of your organization.
If you are not on the right course, it doesn’t matter how fast you fly. You’ll just get to the wrong destination quicker, and the corrections will take longer.
The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving.”
The test of your leadership and that of your organization is not whether you can face times of adversity, but whether you can honestly and accurately evaluate where you are, and where you are headed. 
Once you and your team have carefully evaluated your direction, making sure you are on target with your values and vision, then when you are faced with adversities, you can properly address them.
Leadership assessment: Competence
Not all test pilots become astronauts. While their skills and abilities are admirable, not all have the right stuff. When it comes to the astronaut corps, only the best are chosen.
While it is a delicate question to ask, it is a legitimate one that needs an answer. It could be the leader who brought the organization to where it is, may not be the one to take into the future. Better to have the right leader in times of adversity than the wrong leader in times of prosperity.
How you evaluate problems as a leader will determine your success as a leader.
Evaluate properly, observe wisely, and be sure that the right leader is at the helm.
©2024 Doug Dickerson. Read more at or email

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