We all are climbing a ladder. Everybody’s on some ladder. And there are lots of ladders. You know what is amazing? If our ladder is not leaning against the right wall, then every step we take just get us to the wrong place faster.
You may be very busy being efficient, but without a vision, you will not be effective in achieving where you are going in life and in business.
“It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. It is possible to be busy – very busy – without being very effective.”
– Stephen Covey
May I share a current example of how we as a country are working harder and harder at climbing a ladder that is leaning against the wrong wall?
Our Country’s Direction
A recent McClatch-Marist Poll found that 68 percent of adults think the country is on the wrong track, while just 27 percent think things are moving in the right direction.
As you very well know, our country is in the midst of a presidential election and many state and local elections.
America was founded on the values of “freedom and responsibility”. One reason more than two-thirds of Americans think the country is moving in the wrong direction is because we are reacting to a feeling that we are living out other people’s agendas and are the victims of circumstance rather than our own individual responsibility for our choices and decisions.
Freedom and Responsibility
In other words, our country was founded with a healthy tension between individual responsibilities and the vast freedoms that we enjoy.
However when we focus (where many people are today) only on “what are my rights (freedoms)”, and neglect our corresponding responsibilities, chaos ensues. Where do you think our divisiveness and disunity comes from? …Our focus on “what are my rights” has leaned our ladder against a very unstable wall – a wall that lacks the counter-balancing support of responsibility.
When our choices and decisions are determined by other people’s agendas and not by principles (led by our values, purpose, and vision), we feel deeply vulnerable and dependent on others for our needs of acceptance and love, a sense of belonging, importance, worth, and feeling that we matter.
Many of the leaders of our country and those who aspire to lead us tell us that we are victims of our grandparents, our parents, and our environment, and if we transfer our individual responsibility over to them they promise to solve our problems (symptoms) and will grant us the pleasures, conveniences, and comforts we desire.
Listen to most of our leaders and those who aspire to be who offer to solve our symptoms (our problems). For example…
- When crime increases in a city, we hire more police officers.
- When drug addiction increases, we build more drug rehab facilities.
When you solve symptoms you are only making the pain to go away for short while, but you have not addressed the root cause.
Every person and every leader of our country can lean their ladder against the right wall by identifying the root causes of our nation’s problems.
Stephen Covey tells us when you “begin with the end in mind” (your vision) that you can make certain that you do not violate your principles. This approach positions you to correctly deal with your problems and contribute each day in a meaningful way.
Symptom vs. Root Cause
And when you’re resolving a problem, it’s important to understand the difference between a symptom and a root cause.
A symptom is an indicator or sign that a problem exists.
A root cause is the fundamental reason for, or source of the problem.
Root Cause Analysis
One way to discover the root cause of a problem is to perform a simple root cause analysis. A root cause analysis just requires you to ask a series of why questions.
If your employees have a low morale, it is a sign of a problem. Low morale doesn’t happen by itself, and it can’t be resolved by itself.
If you ask “Why do my employees have a low morale?” The answer might be that they are fearful and lack trust in management. If you ask “Why are my employees afraid and lack trust?” The answer may be that you have a manager that exhibits destructive behavior. Next, you ask “Why does my manager exhibit destructive behavior?”, and so on…
Each time that you can answer the why question, you have probably identified a symptom that is actually caused by something else.
So continue to ask why for each answer until you can no longer generate a logical response.
You now have likely reached the root cause that has generated the observed symptoms.
Tip: Once you think you’ve asked your last “why” question, try to ask “why” one more time. Often, we need to really push through to the end of this process to arrive at the genuine, root cause of our problem!
When you have identified the root cause, put an action plan in place to solve the problem. And amazingly, many of the symptoms will go away as well.
Notice that if you take action too early in the process, you wind up merely addressing the symptoms (and often ineffectively). Imagine our scenario of the employees with low morale mentioned above. If you immediately launched a cheery, “let’s get positive” campaign with your people, you would have missed the root (and main) cause of the morale problem altogether!
Back to Our Country
When we pursue freedoms without regard to the principles, like responsibility, that anchor our country, we encounter the emptiness and frustration that is so evident in our nation today. Could I suggest the reason our country’s ladder is leaning against the wrong wall is because we have lost the healthy tension between our “freedom and responsibility”.
Have you used the “why” questions to uncover the root cause to a problem? Will you challenge our country’s leaders to abide by our founding values? Please send me your comments <here> and share this blog post with family, a friend and co-worker.