This is an excellent quintessential leadership post by Dan Rockwell. Alarmists tell everybody all the time all the things that could, that might, that possibly go wrong and they expect everybody, including those of us in leadership positions, to address and focus on these potential problems (which, by the way, seldom materialize at all, or in the rare cases, they do, not at all the way the alarmists envisioned them) instead of the real problems, issues, and projects at hand.

My way of addressing this alarmist syndrome on my teams is to tell them at the outset not to bring a problem – real or potential – to me without bringing me a solution as well. And “Do you have a solution?” was always the question I asked as soon as I heard either “We have a problem…” or “We might have a problem…” If the answer I got was “No,” then I reminded the person that they had a part in the process of solving real or potential problems and they hadn’t done their part, so we wouldn’t discuss until they had.

Potential problems, interestingly, almost never came back to me. Real problems did, but so did some really innovative solutions, which was win-win for everyone.

Leadership Freak

Warning switch

Alarmists are irritating. They push the panic button at the first hint of smoke. They see what might go wrong and yell fire. While you’re dealing with “real” issues, they’re dealing with things that might happen.

Reject the temptation to ignore “alarmists.” All problems were potential once. The land of leadership is the land of not yet and could be. That includes potential problems. Leaders consumed with current issues aren’t leading.

Four inadequate responses to “alarmists:”

  1. Agree. Issues are often over or misstated.
  2. Answer. Don’t give answers. Your answer suggests more potential problems to an alarmist.
  3. Minimize. Alarmists become more alarmed if you don’t make them feel heard.
  4. Ignore. Bury your head in the sand and you’ll get kicked in the butt.

One crucial concern:

Consider the source. Don’t waste your time with disengaged spectators. Ignore them politely. The future is never built by fixing issues from complainers on the…

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