“We cut ’em in half with a machine gun and give ’em a Band-Aid.”
Captain Willard – Apocalypse Now

A colleague of a friend of mine has had worsening hip pain over the past year. She regularly went to her doctor about it. He said it was arthritis and told her to treat it with over-the-counter arthritis relief medication.

A few weeks ago, this lady’s hip pain had gotten so bad that she couldn’t stand to work – she is a nurse – and she again went to the doctor. Her doctor finally referred her to a specialist.

The specialist found that the lady had asymptomatic lung cancer that had spread to her bones and to her brain. Last week, this lady was admitted to hospice and is in the process of actively dying.

I share this story because it is a dramatic example of handling an issue by looking at symptoms instead of causes. In the medical field, this is called malpractice. All practicing physician’s assistants and doctors, as well as healthcare corporations, are required to carry malpractice insurance specifically because of situations like this where life is permanently and negatively altered or death occurs.

This lady will die because of her doctor’s malpractice.

Similarly, if people in leadership positions do the same thing with their teams and organization, their teams first and their organizations eventually will die. While this is never as directly dramatic or heart-rending as a person dying, there are wide-ranging and far-reaching consequences for everyone involved and lives can be permanently and negatively altered as a result.

Quintessential leaders, by nature or nurture, have an excellent grasp on the big picture, so when they see a lot of symptoms of an issue, they immediately begin to look for the underlying causes to either successfully treat it or to eliminate it.

Unquintessential leaders who see the same symptoms will essentially throw something at the symptoms one at a time to see if that will resolve the issue. It’s the same strategy that Captain Willard, in Apocalpyse Now, described as how the United States government fought the Vietnam War.

When there are issues, either on teams or in organizations, there are always underlying – “root” – causes.

It may surprise a lot of people in leadership positions to find out that the majority of the time the primary cause is human – a person or group of people who are sabotaging the team and/or the organization, while secondary causes are a lack of quintessential leadership and clearly defined systems and parameters that are unilaterally, consistently, and fairly adhered to and enforced.

This combination is lethal to the health, the growth, the success, and the profitability of teams and organizations. Since unquintessential leaders don’t know or understand that they are causes, they also don’t know or recognize the person or people on their teams or in their organizations who are also causes.

Quintessential Leader - Getting to the root cause of issues team organizationSo, as quintessential leaders, what does our issue-handling look like? This will be a summary and it will be the opposite of what unquintessential leaders’ issue-handling looks like.

  • Look at the team or organization as a whole to see where identical or similar symptoms are cropping up
  • Determine what the common denominator(s) is/are among the symptoms
  • Identify the people involved among the symptoms
  • Identify the people that the symptoms have in common
  • Identify the behaviors and attitudes that these people have that are the causes of the symptoms
  • Determine whether the causes are treatable
  • If the causes are treatable (some people have behaviors and attitudes they don’t realize they have and that they don’t realize are creating the symptoms), then coach, advise, and mentor the person/people to full recovery (this is a long-haul process and a big time and energy commitment on our parts, so we need to be sure the causes are treatable to full recovery before embarking on it)
  • If the causes are untreatable, eliminate them

If you have not yet read Building Trust and Being Trustworthy, I strongly encourage you to do so. The traits that quintessential leaders must have to build trust and be trustworthy are the foundation that quintessential leaders must have to skillfully and successfully complete the process, outlined above, for handling issues by looking at causes instead of symptoms.

And, now, the question each of us must ask ourselves: how does my quintessential leadership look in this area?

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