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The first time I keynoted at a Leadership Conference for a global Fortune 50 Company, I learned a profound lesson. Here's the back story:

I'd spent five weeks creating, editing and practicing my keynote. My presentation coach, a legend for those of us in National Speakers Association, had diligently worked with me to up level my mindset, content, and platform skills.

I was ready! I was on! I had a blast!

A week later the event planner, someone whom I’d always admired and respected for the crazy great job she did, called saying she had awesome news for me. The evaluations on the hundred plus speakers had come in, and I’d ranked in the top three with a 4.5 out of a possible 5.

What? Are you kidding me?

I only scored a 4.5?

She laughed, without humor I might add. “Nancy, 4.5 is amazing; The corporate culture here is problem-centric. Find a problem. Fix it. Find the next problem. Repeat. That’s what they’re trained to do. So no matter how inconsequential your speaking ‘mistake,’ they’re driven to identify it, and call it out. No external speaker has ever received a 5."


From that day forward I’ve made it a practice to observe people in terms of who they are in relation to problems. I've discovered patterns, behaviors, types. Here’s what you need to know about three of them; it will improve your leadership skills and enhance the effectiveness of your team. (Disclaimer: Like anything else, these tenets may apply in part, or not at all).


  • They’re pessimists

  • They often feel toxic to others

  • They are the drama king/queen

  • They crave attention

  • They sometimes make up problems that don’t exist

  • They lack accountability; it’s never their fault\

  • They stir things up, but not in a good way

  • They’re prone to uprisings (and tantrums)

  • They have a Fixed Mindset

  • They aren’t likely to change

  • They contaminate the team

  • You can try coaching them, but don’t resort to magical thinking

  • They either create problems or exacerbate existing problems

  • They functionally need chaos

The Impact Questions:

  1. Does this person ever shake things up in a good way? Or, more often, do you think, “Not again.”

  2. What price are you paying v what reward are you getting by having this person on your team? When the former outweighs the latter, you may consider saying, “Bye-bye”. See Solomonism #26 above.

  3. If this person left your team/organization, of their own volition, would you be disappointed or relieved?

"Who you are is how you lead" - Solomonism #342


There are four common scenarios:

1. They see the problem and choose to do nothing about it 2. They see the problem but because "it’s not their problem," they move right along 3. They see the problem and discern that it isn’t a priority right now; it can wait (which implies that they’re really not ignoring it) 4. They don’t see the problem

Which may lead you to ask yourself, “Should people be held accountable for a problem they don’t recognize?” “Why don't they see the problem?” Is it competency? Are they overloaded with work, so this problem is simply overlooked? Is the problem outside their scope of expertise, so it's unrecognizable to them?

The Impact Questions:

  1. Does every member of your team behave as though they're responsible for the success of a project?

  2. Are they empowered to empower one another?

  3. Do they “own” the success of the team; in other words, do they show up as being willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done?

“Focusing on your weaknesses is like trying to pump up the flat side of a tire” -Solomonism #26


Some insights into this type:

  • They discover problems that already exist, but that haven’t yet been addressed

  • They are often the problem finder, as well as the problem solver

  • They’re often intuitive; they can sense where problems are likely to occur in the future

  • They think big picture, and are also able to muck around in the weeds

  • They’re passionate about fixing problems, broken things, and ineffective, outdated or deficient systems

  • They break things that work, so they can see what happens

  • They’re constantly looking for ways to improve what is

  • They have a Growth Mindset

  • They discover big problems while they’re still small

  • They are adept at anticipating problems that are yet to be manifest

These are the folks who usually require the smallest bandwidth of oversight. Their personal operating system is designed to make things run smoothly; when things don’t, these folks jump in to discover where, why and how. Often they unwittingly sniff out problems even before their brains are able to process the bit, “There’s a problem."

The Impact Questions:

  1. Yes, these folks are a huge asset to your projects, but are they ready for bigger things?

  2. Are you holding them back because moving them forward would leave a deficit on your team?

  3. Can this person cultivate other leaders, problem solvers who, as of yet, haven't been discovered

Business problems are usually talent problems.

Problems can be very expensive to fix. Or not. Once they get past some indeterminate point, they can’t be fixed. You’ll need to toss it out. Start all over. Nothing wrong with this, but you may want to discover this before you don’t have a palpable choice.


Is yours a problem-solving culture? If not, why not?

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