Last Wednesday the district leadership team met to discuss the findings of a leadership style survey we all took. I added the results of this HUMANeX analysis to my pile of similar activities - StrengthFinder (1 and 2), Myers-Briggs, etc. While I find such tools interesting, I am not sure exactly if they have had a lot of impact on my "leadership style." Leadership, like happiness, is not something about which I spend a great deal of time contemplating.
What the session did make reflect upon problems and one's perception of them. My second highest ranked "talent" was as problem-solver. While I certainly have times that I wish problems came less often and easier to solve, having a job that is basically solving people's problems (which have become one's own problems) makes for interesting work.
I learned the hard way just how important it is to have a job with challenges. After two overly-challenging years as a high school English teacher fresh out of college in a poor rural district in Iowa, teaching 6 classes, having 5 preps, and sponsoring class plays, speech contest, the yearbook, and the school newspaper plus working at a gas station on the weekends to pay the bills, I swore I wanted a job that required no thinking whatsoever.
And I got my wish. To support myself and my family while I attended graduate school, I got a job in "central sterilizing" at the University of Iowa Hospital. 3-11 shift.
Although central sterilizing sounds like a rather unpleasant activity involving the removal of body parts, what the department actually did was clean and prepare surgical equipment and supplies. Steel instruments needed to be washed and disinfected through a trip through an autoclave. Three-gown-packs of surgical gowns, drapes, towels, and bowls were endlessly prepared. This was my usual job - to stand at a table, laying down a large cloth into which I would place gowns, towels, and bowls in a specific layout, fold it, tape it, date it, and place it on a cart that would later be pushed into a giant autoclave. Every evening, five evenings a week, 8 hours an evening.
After two weeks I was going crazy with boredom. But I stuck out the job for the 15 months it took to get my masters degree. When I returned to the classroom, it was with a fresh appreciation for problems - and having a job that required solving them.
Jonathan Kozel advises picking battles that are big enough to matter, but small enough to win. This can be applied to problems as well. We need to learn to ignore those problems that are too big to solve within one's own sphere of influence, but not to dwell on the unimportant. There is a problem-solving sweet spot, akin to Csikszentmihalyi's flow experience depending on the task at hand falling between boring and frustrating.
So the challenge then I have as a leader is to help my staff find that problem-solving sweet spot, identify the battles that are big enough to matter but small enough to win, and perhaps most importantly, see problems as a blessing, not a curse.