“Every problem has 10-20 causes, but only one or two that really matter. Fix those one or two and everything else takes care of itself.” – Lourenco Goncalves, CEO, Cliffs Natural Resources, Inc.
At an intimate executive planning session yesterday for the Association of Iron and Steel Technology in Charleston, South Carolina, Lourenco Goncalves who is the CEO of Cliffs Natural Resources, Inc. – the largest mining operations in the US – spent a few minutes reflecting on his career and shared some of the leadership principles that have made him a super successful executive. Like a lot of us, he started at the bottom and worked his way up. Eventually, he ran Brazil’s largest steel mill and was even able to privatize it (it was previously owned by the government). After this, he came to the US and successfully turned around several of our plants. Once he got here, he decided to become a US citizen and stay to raise his family.
Throughout his career, he spent a lot of time “cleaning up messes,” which is basically the job of every manager and leader. When he was asked how he did it, his formula was simple. The premise is that while many problems can be complex, the fixes to them are often simple. Each problem may have multiple causes and symptoms that interact and influence other problems or issues, eventually creating what I call the amorphous mess.
If you look at complex problems and focus on fixing one or two of the root causes of the problem, other problems or issues often quickly resolve themselves or are no longer as significant.
As I got to thinking about this, it seems to me that this philosophy can work pretty much anywhere:
- Personal Health: Instead of taking even more medications to regulate poor health, a better diet and steady exercise can help your body work the way it was designed
- Facilities Maintenance: Instead of waiting for a pipe to burst and flooding your floor, some preventive care can keep it from ever occurring.
- Time Suckers: Instead of spending time on people or things that you later regret like wasting too much time on watching TV, trying to convince people to change who aren’t ready to change or being constantly distracted by a messy work space, avoiding those situations or people gives you more time.
- Sales Growth: Instead of constantly looking for ways to reduce expenses or cut costs, what happens if you grow market share, sell more profitable projects and expand the relationships you already have with your customers?
- Reducing Expenses: When you do have to save money, cutting some staff always seems to produce faster returns than going line item by line item, because employees are often one of the more significant expenses in many businesses.
You get the idea. If you look for the one or two solutions that will solve 90% of your problem, you can then decide if it’s the right fix—and you have enough courage—to do that. When you do, your life should get simpler, faster than working on the less significant causes.