Problem Solving Checklist

Describe the problem

* (adults call this 'Cognition' and '**Problem Definition**')
* What made you think there is a problem? (adults call these '**Symptoms**')
    * What did your body tell you? (Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tongue, Touch, Feelings)
    * What is making you think there is a problem? Worries? Concerns?
    * If the initial problem is large, vague, or unclear, clarify more
* **State the problem**
    * What did you want or expect to happen? (adults call this a 'Goal')
    * What actually happened?
    * Describe the **gap**
    * Gap = Expected results - Actual results = Problem (no gap = no problem)
    * State the problem in one sentence
    * Write it down to help focus on right thing

Gather Data

* What facts are important (adults say 'relevant')?
* Re-read your problem statement.
* Write down the facts you find
* Go see at the place where the problem happens
    * What did your body tell you? (Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tongue, Touch, Feelings)
    * What are inputs and outputs?
    * What measurements could help?
* Intuition?
* What do I know?
* What is still unknown?
* What information is missing or not needed?
* Notice any patterns over time?
* How big is the problem? Do you need adults to help?
* Ask 5WH - Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, How Much?
    * When = Timing
        * When was the last time expected = actual? Day? Time of day?
        * What changed around that time?
    * Who is involved in the problem? Who cares if it is solved? Do they have a preferred solution already?
* Are feelings important?
* What will we know when we solve the problem? How will we know we solved it?

Why is it happening?

* (adults call this 'Identify Cause(s)', and some adults forget this)
* Think what could have caused the gap (adults call these '**Possible Causes**')
    * What are your ideas? Why do you think that?
    * What are other people's ideas?
    * (older kids) Draw a fishbone cause and effect diagram
    * Go back to gather more information if needed
* Which cause best fits your information? (adults call this the '**Root Cause**')
    * Write down this cause to help focus
  • Create Ideas - What could we do? What are the range of different ways of solving it?
    • (adults call this ‘Divergent Thinking’ or ‘Generate Alternatives’)
    • What has already been tried to solve it?
    • Think or talk about different ways of solving it (stopping or countering the cause)
    • Mindmap your options
    • Give each choice a name or label

Explore Consequences of Choices

* (adults call this '**Convergent** Thinking' or 'Select **Best Solution**')
* Decide this by asking Why that way? Why then? Why there? Why them?
* Explore consequences - Ask "What might happen if...?" for each solution, does the predicted outcome solve it?
* Cause-oriented?
    * How does this solution reduce the effects of the cause?
    * How does this solution stop that cause from happening again?
* What is available to solve the problem? Time? Helpers? Pens and paper? Places you can use? Money?
* Estimate how much work or effort it will take.
* Is this realistic?
* Any limits? (adults call this 'Constraints')
    * How important is timing for a solution?
    * Is it safe?
    * Will helpers want to help?
* How flexible is this solution if things change?
* What could go wrong with this solution?  (adults call this 'Risk')
* What might go better than expected with this solution? (adults call this 'Opportunity')
    * How else can I do or consider this?

What’s the best thing to do?

* Zero-in by getting rid of any solutions that don't fit well
* Pick from the surviving choices the solution that you think best fits the problem

Try to Solve it

* (adults call this 'PDCA' or the 'Deming Cycle')
* You may go through PDCA more than once


    * Is it safe?
    * Told adults what you intend and got permission to continue?
    * Do you need a temporary fix while you solve it?
    * Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, How?
    * Focused on the cause?
    * Action plan = Steps you plan to follow
    * What do you predict will happen?
    * Who's help do you need?
    * What have other people done? (if similar enough to help)
    * Who will do what?
    * What do you need? Time? Helpers? Pens and paper? Places you can use? Money?
    * Back plan - work backwards from the end, step by step
    * Do you want to just fix it like it was or make it better?
    * What could go wrong with your plan? How can you work around that?
    * What might go better than expected? How can you encourage that?


    * Who do you need to tell?
    * Try to solve the problem = Use your action plan


    * How fast can you check if the solution is working? (faster is better)
    * Did it work?
        * Did what actually happened match what you predicted?
        * Did the results stop or reduce the effects of the cause?
        * Did the results solve the original problem statement?
    * How do you know? What information told you?
    * What did your body tell you now? (Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tongue, Touch, Feelings)
    * Did it stop the cause?
    * Did it fix the problem? Is the gap still there?
    * Is your fix good enough? Why?


    * If not fixed
        * Make needed changes, improvise
        * Try again
        * Mistakes happen, it is okay if you learn from them
        * If you fixed this cause, but it did not fix the problem, you may need another cause
    * If fixed
        * What else should be done to make sure it does not happen again?


* It worked!
* Feel good! You solved a problem!
* Thank any helpers!

Get Better

* (adults call this 'Lessons Learned' or Continuous Improvement')
* What went well?
* What did not go so well?
* How can you do better next time?
* What can we share with others about what we learned?
* (older kids) How can we standardize successful approaches? 

Adjusting Leader Style to Personality Types

There are several good books on personality types. I have found DISC and Red, Blue, Yellow, White to be an effective model for interpersonal interactions in sales, leadership, and parenting.

I particular liked one book that called the four types red, blue, yellow, and white and gave examples of kids in a class room that were pretty funny. We’ve used this concept with our own children to adjust our communication style with them to approach them in their ‘comfort zone’.

For kids, I never much liked the Myers Briggs type system because it is too complex to apply and teach to this age group. The other system I liked is DiSC (just like the color codes).

I’ve known some people that get upset when I explain this to them. They feel like I’m trying to label them. I don’t recommend it for labeling, but rather for helping figure out a way forward with peers, teachers, other adults, etc. for your child. It provides an imperfect model that is better than no model. It highlights tendencies with a broad brush so you have to adjust. But thinking ANY leadership model is free from problems is silly in my mind. The old military rule of thumb that “No plan survives first contact.” applies just as well to the plans of mice and men. We use these models to get ideas about what to do next, but in the dance of real life, the choreographed moves often fall by the wayside. So some have asked me, “then why bother planning at all?” Because it is the planning that gets you mentally in the frame of mind to adapt quickly when reality shreds your plan. OK, off my soapbox.

Keep in mind that children do not settle on a personality type quickly. We started to see tendencies that suggested a particular type or two before the age of 8, and had each child pretty well figured out by age 12. It doesn’t always help, but it can help adjust if you are a red (D) and the child is a white (S), so you can slow your pace etc.

We haven’t had much success trying to get the children to use this model, but we’ve used it to relate better with them on their terms.

Plan Do Check Adjust (PDCA)


Planning = a process of anticipating and decision-making, and assigning responsibility for tasks


  • What is the activity?


  • Purpose or Intent? Intent guides as the situation changes

  • Desired outcome?

  • Target group of people?

  • What goal or objective does the activity support?


  • Who is participating in the activity?

  • Availability? Capacity? Commitment?

  • How many people to be accommodated?

  • Communicate details to who? How early? How often?

  • Information and invitations sent to members?

  • Who presides at this event?

  • Key people (experts, etc.) needed?


  • When is the activity? Date? & Time?

  • Date conflicts? Near major holiday? Other activities?

  • How much time available before START?


  • Where will the activity happen?

  • Permissions needed for the space?

  • Venue booking reservations needed?

  • Where will people meet before START?


  • What did we decide to change from our last activity?

  • Identified success measures?

    • Desired specific measures we seek to achieve?
    • Success criteria?
  • Backwards plan from the END back to the START

    • Visualize the activity (a testable prediction or hypothesis)
    • Essential task assignments?
    • Dependencies of one task on another?
    • Sequence actions
  • Options? Courses of action?

    • Comparison of each option/course of action
    • Decide which way to do the activity
  • Criticality?

    • Rehearsals needed? Small scale pilot test?
    • Any weaknesses in the planning?
    • Confidence to be gained?
    • Skill drills needed?
    • If automatic, fast responses needed

      Constraints / Limits

  • Budget?

  • Time limits?

  • Organizational policy limits?

  • Eligibility requirements (age, skills)?

  • A resource with capacity limits?

  • Supports goals/objectives?

  • Tradeoffs?

    Bounding Assumptions

    Be Prepared

  • Prerequisite Skills needed?

    • Training needed? How far in advance?
  • Resources needed?

    • Who assigned for each?
    • Lead time to get resources?
    • Contracts required?
    • Porta-potties, dumpsters?
  • Fees

    • License fees?
  • Equipment needed?

    • Who will buy it? Who already has it?
    • Who will bring each item?
    • Binoculars?
    • Knives, axes, saws?
    • Shovels
    • Food prep
    • Pots, pans, cooking utensils, forks, knives, spoons
    • Water container, bladder, canteen
    • Audio visual needs?
  • Consumable Supplies needed?

    • Water? How much? How transported?
    • Fire related: Firewood or charcoal? Fire starter?
    • Food?
      • How much? How many people served food?
      • Who assigned to purchase which food?
      • How transported?
      • Cooling required?
  • Sanitation?

    • Hand cleaning? Alcohol wipes? Soap?
    • Toilet paper
    • Personal Toiletries
  • Presentation

    • AV equip, flipcharts / stands / markers / notepaper/ pencils / copies of all exercises / Blue tape
  • Will weather impact the activity?

    • If yes, what is the forecast?
    • Weather related clothing needed?
  • Visibility

    • Will it be day or night?
    • Portable lights needed?
  • Communication / Coordination plan

    • Cell coverage sufficient?
    • Phone numbers with each group?
    • All kept informed of changes
  • Travel required?

    • Vehicles needed?
    • Who has this type?
    • Who assigned?
    • Routes? Maps? GPS?
    • Communication between vehicles? Radio? Signals?
    • Reconnoiter actual location?
    • Any changes to plans based on seeing the actual location?
    • Planned stop points (breaks for fuel, restrooms)
  • Lodging needed?

    • Tents, bedding, ground cloth, stakes, rain fly
    • Motel/Hotel?
    • Designated Loading/Unloading Area needed?
  • Clean Up Plan

    • Clean up plan?
    • How to leave the site better than you found it?
    • Who assigned clean up?
    • Rotation schedule?
  • Risks and Mitigating Actions

    • Risks/hazards identified?
    • Handling actions to reduce probability and impact? Triggers?
    • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
    • Probable adverse events?
    • Root cause? Handling actions address root cause?
    • Medical physicals required?
    • Liability issues?
    • Safety brief?
    • Emergency Procedures?
    • Emergency contact information for each person?
    • First-aid kit available?
    • Obstacles?
    • Workarounds?


  • Get set

    • Leader arrive early
    • Participants show up
    • How will you deal with early and late participant arrivals?
    • Set up tasks
  • Leader briefs planned actions to the group

    • Current situation
    • Review purpose / intent
    • Give direction or context for the activity
    • Explain process to participants
    • Review assignments
    • Assign someone to take pictures
    • Priority of work
    • Describe rules, boundaries
    • Check for understanding
    • Check everyone understands objectives
    • Coordinating instructions
  • Inspections (critical gear)

    • Equipment, weather clothing, personal protective equipment (PPE)
    • Food, water, food prep equipment
    • Safety brief
  • Go

    • Engage, Get it done, Have fun, Run activities
    • Respond to unfolding interaction with the environment
      • Assigned prep tasks done?
      • Expected vehicles arrived?
      • Make assignments
      • Outside information?
      • Apply previous experience
      • Contingency / backup plan in case of no-shows, etc.
      • Issue management
      • Degree of flexibility built-in?


  • WHEN
    • Immediately after activity
    • Timeliness helps learning process / improvement / progression
    • Closed loop, feedback to participants
  • Evaluate actual against plan
    • Review purpose/intent
    • Gauged effectiveness?
    • Met success measures?
    • Achieved the desired outcome?
    • Closer to or further from goals/objectives?
    • Before-and-after comparison / Plan versus actual
  • Facilitate lessons learned reflection (Agile retrospective)
    1. What went well?
      • Key events
      • How well did backplanning predict what actually happened?
      • Knowledge or skill gained?
    2. What didn’t go so well?
      • Any surprising results emerged?
    3. What can we do better next time?
      • NOT a lecture, NOT to embarrass anyone, NOT a gripe session
  • Report to stakeholders

    • Assignment of report to who?
    • Who attended? Impact to participants? Pictures?
    • Thank you notes to volunteers?


  • What 1 thing will we do differently next time?

  • Adopt, Adapt, Abandon (Pivot)

  • Disposal of leftover food, materials, supplies

  • Submit any receipts

  • File any accident reports

So what can adults do to help kids learn leadership?

  • The two adults with perhaps the greatest impact on children are their mother and their father. Therefore the first schools with the greatest impact on children are at home, for those children in this situation
  • Any interested adult can consciously provide specific examples consistently
  • Even if the primary adults in the child’s life don’t feel like they have leadership experience, they can expose the child to other good examples
  • Adults can arrange for opportunities for practice leadership skills
  • A crucial role for adults is to encourage the child, learning new things may be hard for the child initially. Because success typically begets success, it’s important to help them through the difficult beginning periods, rather like riding a bicycle.
  • Adults can watch for the child’s natural gifts or special talents, as they begin to emerge. Adults can help the children see and apply their own unique strengths. Awareness must come before use and honing.
  • Adults can provide feedback when children are in practice situations. They can talk through what happened and help them see the good and what can be tried again in future practices. This type of processing out or learning from practice is important to advancing their skill.
    • Children need models more than critics.
    • If it is hard for you to provide positive feedback, then introduce the child to someone more practiced at this and learn from them.
  • Adults can keep a written journal of the child’s progress, especially the effective behaviors and positive character traits that emerge. Periodically review their growth as written in the journal and use your insights for encouragement and positive reinforcement.
  • The adult can point out how someone in the child’s environment behaved effectively with leadership so the child starts to be aware of examples around themselves. Examples are many if they know how to watch for them.
  • Oddly enough adults should use poor examples around the child as discussion launch points. For example, “How would you have handled that situation differently?” These ‘thought experiments’ begin to form their experience base. The child can draw upon this ‘experience’ later.
  • Trusted adults can develop role plays and act out different roles, asking the child to influence the outcome. This can provide a safe environment to make mistakes without embarrassment and to get specific targeted feedback.
  • Sincerely care about the child, lovingly lead them by the hand and show them how.
  • Positively reinforce glimpses of good character.
  • Tell stories of other leaders. Children love a good story and it provides context for the leader’s actions.
  • Ask if the child noticed any leaders in entertainment videos or stories. Ask how they noticed. Ask how they (or tell how you) might do things differently.
  • Leadership can be hard, so show them that to help a group of people accomplish something is to create. Creation is one of our deepest desires as humans, and it is inherently fulfilling. This is the upside that makes working with the difficult parts of leadership worthwhile.
  • What else can you think of?

Help Kids Develop Improved People Skills

First of all, be an example. Help the child to…

  • Be approachable, be easy to talk to. Spend the extra effort to put other people at ease. Where needed, be warm, pleasant, and gracious. The Japanese people set a great example for graciousness. We can all improve this.

  • Be sensitive to and patient with the interpersonal anxieties of others in the organization you lead. Build rapport well. Listen well. Get informal and incomplete information in time to do something about it.

  • Show compassion. Sincerity is crucial. Genuinely care about people. Demonstrate concern about their problems. Be available and ready to help. For this to be effective, you have to demonstrate real empathy with the joys and pains of others. Children do this well from birth. It is trained out of some by the adults around them.

  • Stay cool under pressure. Being composed means not becoming defensive or irritated when times are tough. Act mature so others can count on you to hold things together during tough situations. Consider how well you handle stress. Are you easily knocked off balance by the unexpected? Be careful to not show frustration when resisted or blocked. You can be a settling influence a crisis.

  • Laugh a little. Develop and use a positive and constructive sense of humor. People are more at ease with those who can laugh at themselves and with others. Avoid crude humor. Be appropriately funny, using humor to ease tension.

  • Improve your interpersonal savvy. Relate well to all kinds of people, at all levels of your organization and other organizations. Develop the ability to build appropriate rapport. Relationships are so important. Be able to build constructive and effective relationships. Use diplomacy and tact, diffusing high-tension situations comfortably.

  • Effective leaders are patient. They are tolerant with people and processes. Listen and check your facts before acting. Do your best to understand the people and the data before making judgments and acting so you don’t have to back track as much. Waits for others to catch up before acting where possible. Be aware of pacing. Some people can handle faster changes more easily than others. Follow establish process where appropriate.

  • Be open with others. Be easy to get to know for those who interact with you regularly. Admit mistakes and shortcomings. This may sound like weakness, but people appreciate the ability to acknowledge your own faults. Be open about personal beliefs and feelings without being pushy.

Five Year Old Laments 'My sister is making me mad!'

Today, my five year old complained while pouting that his teenage sister was making him mad. After a few minutes of asking about situation, it provided opportunity for a hug and a brief conversation about the only one who can decide how you feel is you, not your sister. We also briefly talked about telling her that her actions caused him to feel bad—he was grumpy today.

This was a chance to address emotional intelligence and problem solving (of the conflict resolution variety). Given the ages involved and the normally pleasant disposition of the teen involved, the emotional agency concept was an initial and brief discussion that will need reinforcement later. Today was more on problem solving. Defining the problem is the first step in troubleshooting. Helping the child to state the problem helps them to see next steps in solving it. Of course at this age verbalizing their feelings may need some guiding from the adult.

Nonverbals: When the child knows you care and you stop what you are doing and kneel down to address them at their level, it helps build the trust needed to try to verbalize what they want or how they feel. Waiting while they find the right words can seem slow at times, but is worth it for their development.</p> <p>Sometimes children this age also need help in coming up with ideas for how to solve the problem in a win-win way. We talked through all of this in less than five minutes (their attention span may be short too). Then after agreeing to a new way to resolve the situation, off he went. I later hear both of them talking nicely with each other. Another lesson discovered by the child.

So problem solving step-by-step in this instance looks like this:

  • The child’s expectation was A, the situation provided B instead. The child attached upset emotions to the gap. The gap between expected and actual is the problem.

  • With young children it takes some time to gather the facts that might occur much faster with older children and teens. Gathering information helps to define the problem and understand the assumptions involved.

  • Identifying the root cause of the problem in this case is pretty easy. Teen sibling acted differently than expected. 5-year-old got frustrated with that outcome.

  • Since we cannot control the behavior of others, and can only control how we respond, the options to fix this are pretty straight forward.

He applied the intervention in this case by tell the sister that “I don’t like it when you tickle me when I am trying to play with my toys. Please do not do that.” If the child were older, perhaps they could negotiate a tickling session later when done with the toys. Ha ha. Teen sibling apologized, and agreed not to tickle during toy playing time, while suppressing a giggle.

Problem solved. Conflict resolved.

Socratic question-based discussions

How can we develop a series of questions to lead them in their own discovery of particular principles? I found a cool website that gave an example of this in teaching kids binary math. Rick’s site is called The Socratic Method: Teaching by Asking Instead of by Telling, by Rick Garlikov

It has a fascinating example of teaching elementary kids how to do base-2 math. How to read binary code is hard enough for most adults, and Rick teaches this class how to do it with some pre-planned questions that lead the children to the next conclusion. Great example.

This can be applied to leadership too, and I’d like to come up with a specific application.

Have the child report on what they saw that day'

Have the child tell you about any examples of good character or leadership they saw today. Depending on their age and interest, you may have to give them an incentive initially.

This way you can monitor what they are aware of as they grow and see their capacity increasing.

Your consistent interest in this can make an impact on them too.

Kids are good at watching examples around them. This exercise helps focus their attention in a particular area.

Great question for the adults trying to teach kids

A guide to teachers states, “A skilled teacher doesn’t think, ‘What will I teach today?’ but rather, ‘How will I help my students discover what they need to know?’” (emphasis added)

So for adults trying to teach kids leadership, instead of “What will I teach them today?”

A better question is “How will I help my children discover what they need to know?”

Teach Kids How to Deal With Stress Well

Never take counsel of your fears.
— Stonewall Jackson


Stress is an array of responses to change, challenge, or a perceived threat. The way the body attempts to adapt and cope with demands.

  • Positive Stress energizes, invigorates, and motivates.

  • Negative Stress tires, depresses, and de-motivates. Negative stress is dysfunctional.

Interestingly, physiological stress response is the same for both positive and negative stress. Our bodies increase adrenaline, and increase blood pressure. Your perception of it can affect your level of stress reaction.

Sources of Stress

Much of common everyday stress comes from the following.

  • An accumulation of minor irritants

  • The fast pace of life events

  • The nature of the school or work environment

Which of the following affect you or your child?</p>

  • Time: deadlines, increased workload, insufficient resources

  • Change: new position, new assignment, new demands, anticipation of change, uncertainty about abilities

  • Relationships: lack of control, threat to status, loss of acceptance by peers/leaders

  • Financial, family, social responsibilities or setbacks

  • Life events: divorce, separation, birth/adoption, illness in family, death in family

  • Physical: weather extremes, temperature extremes, excessive noise, sleep deprivation, chronic pain, excessive travel

  • Psychological: fear, worry, perfectionism, guilt, anger

Symptoms: stress manifests through physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.

  • Physical: muscle tension, headaches, upset stomach, fatigue, rashes, teeth grinding, chest pain, pounding heart

  • Emotional: depression, anger, frustration, irritability, low self-esteem, apathy, impatience, powerlessness

  • Behavioral: change in the inhabitants, increased smoking, changes sleeping habits, inability to concentrate, drug or alcohol abuse

Handling Stress Well

Recognizing symptoms in yourself and your people is the first step. Use your stress energy wisely. Safeguard your health from adverse effects of stress.

  • Make better use of time and energy

  • Clarify goals

  • Make a plan

  • Make a to-do list

  • Break large tasks down into manageable sub-tasks

  • Pace yourself

  • Prioritize

  • Improve relationships

  • Develop networks with peers

  • Use active listening

  • Make a stand on important issues

  • Respect yourself and others

  • Practice being assertive

  • Be gracious, but firm

  • Accept, don’t judge

  • Ask for advice

  • Find both a physical and psychological escape that you can use during the day

  • Alter your outlook

  • Use humor

  • Try something creative

  • Ask “Will this matter, a year from now?”

  • Build stamina

  • Exercise daily

  • Stretch every muscle systematically each day

  • Eat less

  • Eat natural

  • Eat nutritious

  • Substitute fruit and vegetables for sugar

  • Drink water in place of coffee alcohol

  • Practice relaxation techniques daily

  • Relax before going to bed

  • Get enough sleep (kids need 8-10 hours)

  • Develop a hobby that is relaxing and fun

  • Eliminate stressors

  • Develop resiliency

  • Improve short-term coping

  • One proactive way to reduce the performance impact to negative stress and overcome fear is to help your followers have confidence and believe in themselves. Ensure they have the know-how and skills

  • so they can regain their confidence.

  • Constantly upgrade your self confidence and courage.

  • Negative stress is fatiguing. Fatigue brings out the worst in people. Help people overcome fear by teaching them to visualize success.

Understand the human dimension and anticipate people’s reactions to stress, especially to the stress of change. However, if you think about stress and its effects on you and your followers ahead of time, you’ll be less surprised and better prepared to deal with and reduce its effects.

In particular with children, they often do not realize they are stressed, and act out subconsciously. The adult may have to identify or help identify the source and suggest effective countermeasures.