Know the Problem

By | July 10, 2018

[July 10, 2018]  On occasion here at my leadership blog, I ask the proverbial question, Why should leaders seek wisdom?  The purpose of the question is to strike at the heart of a mystery that has tugged at humankind since the beginning.  Leaders seek wisdom so that they can know the problem and fix it when called upon.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu, ancient Chinese general

Sun Tzu was telling us that in order to be a great leader, one must know yourself (your people, resources, and constraints) and know the enemy (the problem, mission, or task).  By knowing BOTH of these a leader can be assured of success in any endeavor of their choosing.

To solve a problem, one must know the problem.  To complete a mission, one must understand the mission.  To complete a task, one must know what the task is about.  But as important as this is, in all human endeavors one must also know themselves.

I just finished reading a book by John C. McManus called The Americans at Normandy.  It tells us in detail how the many units of the U.S. military attacked the shores of Normandy, France in June 1944.  The battles were brutal; the lives lost and destroyed enormous but it had to be done to rid the world of an evil.  In the book, McManus explains the planning and execution of Operation Overlord beginning with the attack on beaches and ending with the trapping of the German armies in the Falaise Pocket.

Of course, it is impossible to have perfect knowledge of yourself and your enemy (or problem) but any failure to make maximum use of time to discover it what intellectual excellence is about.  And the biggest problem leaders have is having full knowledge of themselves, their resources, and capabilities.  This is a common failure point in the experiences of most leaders.

U.S. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower understood both the enemy and the military under his command.  He knew the pitfalls and what it would take in lives and equipment for success to be assured.  Although he had his doubts and although his timetable was never achieved, the operation was successful and it began an Allied drive that destroyed Nazi Germany.

Leadership is achieved through great efforts.  The beginning of the process means to know the problem.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

32 thoughts on “Know the Problem

  1. Jonnie the Bart

    So obvious. So simple. Yet so overlooked.

  2. Delf A. "Jelly"

    This is exactly what happened with the FBI in their latest scandal. They relied upon a senior officer to begin an investigation without even having an inkling that there was a problem. Now we have a huge investigation that after more than a year has consumed millions of taxpayer money, turned up nothing that was the original reason for the investigation, and has made the FBI leadership look like the Keystone Cops. The credibility of the organization deserves a big hit and it has. Perhaps now they will implement some much-needed reform. Their problem? The didn’t know the problem.

  3. Scotty Bush

    “Know the problem!” You would think that using common sense that everyone could figure this out. But, no, of course there are people who jump in with both feet to begin a solution and yet don’t even have a clue about what all the ramifications of the problem are. No surprise that so many fail at their tasks.

  4. Andrew Dooley

    Good comment Jose. Most don’t think this way.

  5. Jerome Smith

    A well developed line of reasoning that is surely based upon proven experiences. I liked your post today and the quote from Sun Tzu.

  6. Anita

    As Brig Gen Satterfield has always written, good leadership is hard to do. It is really hard if you cannot know the problem.

  7. Jerry C. Jones

    Good article today, Gen. Satterfield and worthy of young leaders to read. I find however those young leaders want things given to them and are reluctant to spend the time and energy earning it. Oh well, the new times I guess.

  8. Mark Evans

    Bryan, yes the experts sure don’t get this right very often. I find that many in the military do study how to understand the problem first, then look for a solution. They look also closely at their assumptions and try to turn them into facts before proceeding. Any issue that remains an assumption becomes a risk that must be worked.

  9. Bryan Lee

    You hear a lot of “advice” from the experts on how to solve problems but in nearly every case they ignore making the proper identification of the problem itself. This is what is wrong when you read self-help books or attend special classes. Next time you’re in a leadership class, look out for this.

  10. Eric Coda

    Another great topic. Thanks. I wish that everyone would spend a few minutes taking a close look at how they solve problems and realizing that the very first and most important step is understanding the problem itself.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      The world would be a better place. Obviously people ignore this advice.

    2. Wesley Brown

      Good comment, Eric. Yes, people need to get a grip and stop being stupid. This is one way to make it happen.

  11. Darryl Sitterly

    I wish that someone had mentored me on this growing up in the big city. No surprise that it took me longer to be successful than most other people. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield.

  12. Nick Lighthouse

    Good leadership post today. I must say that I have found this to be a really good, “go to” site for basic leadership principles. Occasionally, like today, I find one that I personally can apply.

  13. Drew Dill

    Maybe it was my military background but I find this to be a very good way to look at obstacles and problems in my life. I try also to teach and mentor young folks about it too. I’m told it works. It worked for me.

    1. Mr. T.J. Asper

      Same here. Mentoring young leaders is my specialty.

  14. Tracey Brockman

    I try to look upon every problem I have in this way and have done so for many years. It’s a simple way but effective. If I don’t identify the problem quickly and properly, anything I do will not solve it. Thanks for a good post today.

  15. Kenny Foster

    If we look at all the ways humans look at problems and themselves, we see patterns. These patterns obviously vary someone geographically. We call it culture and some of these cultures are better at adapting than others. For example, an Australian aboriginee cannot adapt to a modern urban life. Likewise, a metrosexual man cannot adapt to aboriginee life. My point is that certain ways of solving problems are accepted and used according to the people around you. Some of these “ways” work well and others don’t. We see this in play in our political systems and in our economic milieu.

  16. Army Captain

    Human behavior is universally consistent in many ways. The way we tackle problems also has not changed over the thousands of years; technology notwithstanding. This is the way they teach us in the US military to solve problems and it is an effective, long-ago tested methodology.

    1. Georgie M.

      I think you are on to something here, Army Captain.

    2. Lynn Pitts

      Thanks Army Captain. You took the words right out of my mouth (or keyboard).

  17. Janna Faulkner

    Well done! I too have not heard it put this way either. Despite having known about Sun Tzu’s quote for a long time, I never applied it to everyday problems. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield.

  18. Mr. T.J. Asper

    I never thought of life quite this way and it is a simple model that works pretty well. My students will be interested in learning it that way. Thanks.

  19. José Luis Rodriguez

    … and too many just ignore the problem or want to be oblivious to it.

    1. Anita

      Sounds like you are describing one of the many Millenials from generation “me too.”

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