Noel Tichy, author of The Cycle of Leadership: How Great Leaders Teach Their Companies to Win, defines a teachable point of view as a leader’s opinion on what it takes to win in his or her business and to lead other people. Using this definition, I derived three primary principles that make up my teachable point of view: problem solving, perspective, and trust. I’ve used them in nearly every aspect of business, and you can use them, too.


Most of us deal with complexity and its challenges every day. At my consulting firm, we are often hired because clients need to solve a difficult problem. When faced with a tough issue, I think back to what a seasoned partner would say to the proposal team during our morning meeting, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” I agree with his assessment and believe if someone is able to solve problems, he or she will always be in demand.

The irony of problem solving is that we often have a strong desire to run to the solution, whereas the best problem solving begins with active listening. We need to throw out the PowerPoints and just have a conversation with our clients. That doesn’t mean it takes less preparation, though. In fact, it usually takes more time since clients will drive the conversation to where they want to go. We need to be prepared to talk about current events in the industry and challenges our clients face in their careers. This is good because it means we’re helping them solve their problem or take advantage of an opportunity they see.

In SPIN Selling, Neil Rackham talks about problem solving in a sales context. SPIN is an acronym for the four types of questions you need to ask before taking action: Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-payoff. He focuses mainly on selling, but his approach is really about working with clients to solve problems. For example, here’s a SPIN approach to use with a client who needs to improve his risk management system.

Situation questions gather data and confirm pre-meeting research you conducted about the client. You could ask:

* How would you describe the risk appetite of your company? How does this compare to the risk exposure of your company?

* How would you describe the use of risk information in your management processes, such as business development meetings, financial forecasting, business review meetings, and the like?

* How do you identify the positive and negative outliers in your business, meaning those with returns above or below the target? Do they also have a different risk profile?

* Are there other risk management issues you are concerned about?

Problem questions explore problems and dissatisfactions in areas where our solution can help. Consider asking:

* How does your current approach to risk management, which you described in the Situation questions, impact the growth and performance of your company and the reliability of financial forecasts?

* Are you satisfied with the current approach to risk management? If yes, could it be improved? If no, why not?

Implication questions help the customer understand a problem’s seriousness or urgency. They include:

* Are you making different decisions based on your risk information?

* Will the current approach to risk management impact your ability to meet your goals this year?

* Could that lead to increased costs and/or lower levels of customer service?

Need-payoff questions help your customers understand how your solutions can benefit their situation. That way they can explain in their own words what’s possible. Here are a few:

* Is it important to leadership to solve this problem?

* What benefits do you see? Think about the impact to the risk profile of the business and ability of management to make decisions supported by risk data.


Whenever I’m faced with a challenging situation or tough problem to solve, I talk with people who have dealt with a similar challenge to get their point of view. I also read about what others have learned. For example, Clayton Christensen, Karen Dillon, and James Allworth provide an interesting perspective in How Will You Measure Your Life? They talk about the importance of letting your children struggle in order to help them grow and become self-sufficient. That’s probably the hardest thing parents need to learn how to do. But it’s also one of the most important things you can do for your children. Keep them safe, but let them learn how to do things on their own so they can grow. The same can be said when leading others in your professional life.

This is also prevalent in The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. He offers several examples of the best coaches in the world and explains that people need to make mistakes to grow and build skill. Yet mistakes are often frowned upon in the professional world rather than viewed as a teachable moment. Having the perspective of a great coach can really help people you lead.


The one thing that changes the dynamics of a workplace is trust. Think about it: In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey—son of Stephen R. Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—says that when trust goes down, speed goes down and cost goes up. On the flip side, when trust goes up, speed goes up and cost goes down. Covey does a very good job of breaking down the elements of trust—character and competence—and gives tips on how to improve them.


My teachable point of view is to be a problem solver who seeks other perspectives and understands the importance of trust in every interaction. With these skills, you will have what it takes to win in your business as well as to lead others.

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